• attempted suicide;
  • psychiatric care;
  • suicidal risk;
  • suicide;
  • suicide prevention

Aims:  The aim of this survey was to describe patients in care at a large mental health department in northern Italy who attempted suicide, and the clinical management adopted by their psychiatrists before the event.

Methods:  Data collection was based on a questionnaire administered to the reference psychiatrists.

Results:  Over a period of 12 months, 166 catchment area residents attempted suicide. Sixty-six (40%) had contacted the mental health department in the previous two years and completed data were obtained on 63. Twenty-nine (46%) suffered from mood, 26 (41%) from personality and 11 (18%) from schizophrenic disorders. Thirty-four attempts occurred within one year of psychiatric ward discharge, mostly in the first quarter.

The reference psychiatrists reported that, at the last evaluation, 38 of 63 patients (60%) presented no change in clinical conditions, and 41 of 63 (68%) were considered at no immediate risk of suicide. Most of the attempted suicides in question (45, 72%) were judged to be unpreventable. In the two logistic regression analyses carried out, no independent variables were able to statistically significantly explain the variance in judged suicidal risk or the preventability of the index attempted suicide.

Conclusions:  According to the psychiatrists' descriptions of their last contact with the patients, most attempted suicides have not been preceded by a change in clinical conditions. Moreover, psychiatrists, irrespective of their age and gender, and of patient diagnosis, frequently judged the attempts to have been unpreventable.