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Psychology  2019 

Finding the Silent Message: Nurses’ Experiences of Non-Verbal Communication Preceding a Suicide

DOI: 10.4236/psych.2019.101001, PP. 1-18

Keywords: Phenomenological Hermeneutics, Preparations for Suicide, Suicide Communication, Risk Assessment, Psychiatric Nursing

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Suicidal individuals often communicate their intention to commit suicide, but not necessarily verbally. Psychiatric nurses play a central role in the care of patients exhibiting suicidal behaviour or thoughts. Thus, the aim of this study was to explore nurses’ experiences of the indirect messages about forthcoming suicide from patients’ everyday life before they committed suicide. A qualitative design was used with a phenomenological hermeneutical approach. Seven nurses working in specialist psychiatric care were interviewed about their experience of the phenomenon communication about suicide. Results show how the nurses noticed changes in patients just before they committed suicide. These changes included rapid improvement, disguise of real feelings, and unreceptiveness to further treatment or encouragements. The nurses also described patients becoming aware of painful life conditions of losing hope and confidence in the future and experiencing feelings of powerlessness or an inability to influence the situation. Their last moments were characterised by a greater preoccupation with thoughts about death and finding ways to express farewells. This manifested itself in practical preparations and expressing gratitude to people, which was understood by the nurses as a way of saying goodbye. This study shows that it is possible for skilled staff to develop an understanding of a suicidal patient’s internal state and to recognise the non-verbal messages of someone who later committed suicide. The knowledge of how patients prepare and act before suicide could be used to complement a structural suicide risk assessment.


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