BACKGROUND Rapid changes in styles of clinical practice mean that we should carefully monitor the way suicides occur among psychiatric patients both in hospital and in the wider community.
METHOD Patients who had died through suicide either while receiving in-patient care or within 2 months of discharge from hospital were compared with a similar series reported 10 years previously. Clinicians' perceptions of patients' behaviour were compared with concurrent controls.
RESULTS Patients in the more recent study were younger, more often male, and a greater proportion had been discharged from in-patient status. Hazards which complicated risk assessment included short-lasting misleading clinical improvements, variability in degree of distress, and a reluctance to discuss suicidal ideas. Over a range of perceived behaviours it was not possible to distinguish suicides from controls.
CONCLUSIONS In assessing suicide risk paramount importance should be attached to monitoring suicidal ideation and addressing the several hazards which might complicate this procedure.