Original Research

Identifying a probable suicide cluster in an acute care psychiatric hospital in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Ruwayda Jacobs, Christoffel Grobler, Johanita Strumpher
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 27 | a1646 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v27i0.1646 | © 2021 Ruwayda Jacobs, Christoffel Grobler, Johanita Strumpher | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 October 2020 | Published: 19 April 2021

About the author(s)

Ruwayda Jacobs, Department of Emergency Medical Care, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Christoffel Grobler, Department of School of Health Systems and Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Johanita Strumpher, Department of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Two young male patients who were diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis committed suicide in a psychiatric hospital in South Africa within a month of each other. The psychiatric nurses working in the hospital had never before had to deal with a similar trauma of suicide cluster.

Aim: To assess the psychiatric nurses’ experiences of suicide cluster in an inpatient psychiatric setting.

Setting: A psychiatric hospital in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Method: A qualitative design was used. The research population consisted of psychiatric nurses who were purposively selected. Data were gathered using in-depth interviews where the participants narrated their experiences of the incidents. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and the data was coded using descriptive and explanatory codes. Trustworthiness was ensured. Ethical principles of justice, autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence were ensured.

Results: An attempt was made to compare the suicides of two patients with the characteristics of cluster suicide to determine if clustering took place. Two young males committed suicide in an institutional setting within a month of each other. Other characteristics present included using the same method, in the same venue and in the same unit. They had similar educational and social backgrounds. The second victim knew the first victim and was aware of what happened.

Conclusion: When the two events are analysed together it would seem as if clustering did occur. The suicide victims knew each other and victim number 2 was aware of the facts of the first suicide. They were in their early 20’s, were mentally ill and committed suicide in the same site, using the same method and were both institutionalised at the time. Members of the mental healthcare team should be made aware of the characteristics of clustering so that when a suicide attempt occurs in a place where mentally-ill individuals are cared for, measures can be put in place to prevent another patient from copying such an event.


Keywords

patient suicide; psychiatric hospital; suicide clustering; mental health team; psychiatric nurses

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