The Most Dangerous Time: Suicide After Discharge from a Psychiatric Hospital

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suicide after hospitalizationThere are many characteristics that place a person at higher risk for suicide – depression, substance use, a prior suicide attempt, as examples.  It is important for clinicians to know that an especially dangerous characteristic, one that exponentially increases the chances of suicide, is recent discharge from a psychiatric hospital.

I am at the Aeschi West conference this week in Vail, CO. Sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, it is a meeting of 70 or so mental health professionals from around the world who work extensively with suicidal clients. Here, we learn from the best and share our own experiences with other clinicians who have a passion for preventing suicide.

David Rudd, a nationally known suicide expert, gave an excellent presentation about warning signs and risk factors for suicide. He reviewed research showing that in the week following discharge from a psychiatric hospital, people are at dramatically high risk for suicide. One study found that women were 246 times more likely than would be expected – and men were 102 times more likely – to die by suicide in that crucial week. Chances of suicide remain markedly high for at least a month following discharge from a psychiatric hospital.

As Dr. Rudd notes, the elevated risk for suicide following hospitalization does not necessarily mean that the patient was discharged in error. Instead, suicidal intent is fluid, impossible to predict from one moment to the next, let alone day to day. Of course, whatever led to hospitalization in the first place, whether a suicide attempt, mental illness, or some other crisis, places a person at higher risk than normal for suicide.

So What Should a Clinician Do During this Period of Danger?

Dr. Rudd recommends seeing your therapy client at least twice in the week after discharge. Importantly, he states that the first session should, whenever possible, occur on the same day as discharge.

This is one of the most practical pieces of advice ever on preventing suicide, one that has the potential to save many lives.


© Copyright 2013 Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, All rights Reserved. Written For: Speaking of Suicide

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  1. Thea Amidov says:

    Why is the risk of suicide so heightened shortly after release from a hospital? I have heard this statistic many times, but never is there any explanation offered. Is it because the post traumatic stress from the hospitalization?
    Is it because of pent up interest in suicide during hospitalization, suggesting that the hospitalization did nothing to reduce the death wish? It surely doesn’t recommend the ward experience.

  2. . says:

    Why are you avoiding making the most obvious connection: Involuntary hospitalization is traumatic and is a catalyst for suicide. Maybe when a treatment method leads to a 10,000% or 20,000% increase in mortality, you should stop doing it?

    Really, why is this still an option on the table? It clearly does not work as intended.

  3. Mari says:

    Stop traumatizing the patients. The most important aspect for a person considering suicide is control. They do not feel that they are in control of their lives, and you take even more of it away. You make prisoners without any real appeal. In Federal Prison they cannot experiment with drugs on the prisoners it is unconstitutional. How the hell do you get away with it?

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Mari, I understand your concerns about the traumatizing effects of involuntary hospitalization. I share many of these same concerns.

      You ask, “How the hell do you get away with it?” Speaking personally, I want to clarify that I have not yet had to seek involuntary commitment of a client, and, as a clinical social worker, I cannot prescribe drugs.

      Speaking more generally, I want to clarify that involuntary patients are not “prisoners without any real appeal.” To the contrary, in the United States each state has specific regulations pertaining to involuntary commitments. These regulations allow for circumscribed periods during which a person can be held, processes for appeal by the patient, provision of attorney representation, etc.

      This handout of Frequently Asked Questions about involuntary commitment contains some useful information: Involuntary Treatment: Hospitalization and Medications, by John Menninger, M.D.

    • B says:

      I don’t know how it is in US but I’ve seen how these legal safeguards work in other countries. The moment you’re labelled crazy without insight you lose all human rights and the judges are basically rubberstamping whatever the “good professionals” tell them. Sure, some people manage to sue their way out but it takes years and their lives are usually destroyed.

  4. Amy fink says:

    I have been borderline bi polar for 40 yrs, medicated. I am still “moody”.who isn’t when things are bad in life. I have never hurt myself in any way, if anyone else. I don’t drink, or do drugs. Some days I have just ” had enough” and therapist is threatening me with hospital. That is wrong. I am safer alone with my DOG. If I should refuse, what can I legally do about it? It is after all MY CHOICE!

  5. Cynthia says:

    My father committed suicide 25 mins after hospital discharge that very day told a few health care workers he couldn’t live this way one PA scolded him for talking that way in front of my sister and myself he had just learned he had inoperative cancer his doctor changed his fentanyl patch from 25 to 75 and discharged him after all his comments and his diagnose why was a psych dr not called instead he was sent home only to die within. 30 mins I feel the hospital failed him

    • Mari says:

      I am deeply sorry for your loss Cynthia. My father died of inoperative cancer many years ago. His suffering was so great…he only stayed alive for the sake of my mother held on for almost a year. We were all glad for him when it was finally over. I loved him deeply. Give yourself time honey, give yourself time. grief will have its say.

  6. b says:

    How about suicide being caused by the hospitalisation and received treatment? Psychiatrists tend to deny that many practices used on people in these institutions are harmful and can cause PTSD: forced drugging, restraints, strip searches, seclusion, threats by the staff. These practices have been declared as torture/inhuman and degrading treatment by UN but that hasn’t stopped their use.

  7. Carol F. says:

    Wow. This hit home for me. My 23-year-old daughter, Alison, was hospitalized for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideations on July 22, 2013. She was released into IOP and discharged on August 26. Two days later, she jumped from a parking garage and ended her life. In her final weeks, she made sure to spend time with each member of her family. The night before she died, we spent the entire night together, watching TV, drinking tea, and just enjoying being in each other’s presence. I thought at the time that she was feeling better, evidenced by the fact she was spending more time with us. Looking back, I wish I had realized she was saying goodbye.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Carol F., how devastating to lose your daughter, especially when it seemed she was doing better and getting the help that she needed. Have you been able to connect with other survivors? There are survivor support groups that may be of help, whether online or in person. You can find resources here: