Mental Health Workers’ Views About Their Suicide Prevention Role

Virginia Ross, Anoop Sankaranarayanan, Terry J. Lewin, Mick Hunter


Aim: Mental Health workers bear responsibility for preventing suicide in their client group. Survey studies have indicated that staff can be seriously adversely affected when a client suicides. The aim of the current study is to describe and evaluate the effects on mental health (MH) workers of their ongoing role in managing suicidal behaviours and to identify the thoughts and feelings associated with this role. Method: A survey was administered to 135 MH workers via an on-line self-report vehicle. The survey comprised standardised measures of anxiety and burnout as well as a questionnaire developed for this study concerning perceptions and attitudes to suicide and suicide prevention. Results: Factor analysis of 12 retained items of the questionnaire identified three factors: 1) preventability beliefs (beliefs about suicide being always and/or permanently preventable); 2) associated distress (stress/anxiety about managing suicidal behaviour); and 3) the prevention role (covering views about personal roles and responsibilities in preventing suicidal behaviours). Analysis of these factors found that many MH workers experience an elevation of stress/anxiety in relation to their role in managing suicidal behaviours. This distress was associated with the emotional exhaustion component of burnout. Measures showed adverse responses were higher for outpatient than inpatient workers; for those who had received generic training in suicide prevention: and for those who had experienced a workplace related client suicide. Conclusion: There is a need for the development of appropriate self-care strategies to alleviate stress in MH workers exposed to suicide.


mental health workers; suicide prevention; impact of role; emotional exhaustion; burnout