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A theory to guide families and carers of people who are at risk of suicide


  • Fan-Ko Sun PhD, RN,

  • Ann Long MSc, RGN, RMN, HV

Fan-Ko Sun
University of Ulster
Department of Nursing
Tajen University
Taiwan 20 Weishin Road
Yanpu Shiang
Taiwan (R.O.C)
Telephone: +886 0952624135


Aims.  The aim of this study was to explore family members’ and ex-patients’ perceptions of caring for people who had previously attempted suicide.

Background.  Suicide is a major public health problem in Taiwan. Official figures demonstrate that suicide was one of the top 10 causes of death in the last eight years, with 18·8 per 100,000 people taking their own lives in 2005. The Taiwanese Government has set targets to reduce this rate. All members of the population play a role in the prevention of suicide, including families and carers of those at risk. Evidence is sparse on the role that families take in caring for members who have been discharged from hospital following a suicide attempt.

Methods.  Grounded theory using one-to-one tape-recorded interviews were conducted with patients who had just been discharged from hospitals following a suicide attempt (= 15) and family members (= 15). Data were analysed using open, axial and selective coding.

Results.  The core category that emerged was ‘Impending burnout’, depicting family members’ experience of caring for people who had attempted suicide. Other key categories linked to and embraced within this core category were: on guard day and night, maintaining activities of daily living and creating a nurturing environment.

Conclusion.  Families and carers could use the emergent theory as a guide to caring for people at risk of suicide. Psychiatric nurses could use the theory as a framework to educate family members on enhancing the quality of care provided to this group of people. The theory could go some way towards reducing suicidal attempts and decreasing re-hospitalisation rates.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The finding indicated that family members experienced difficulties when caring for those who had previously attempted suicide. Consequently, nurses have a pivotal role in educating families and carers on preventive strategies before suicidal patients are discharged from hospitals.

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