Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Mental Health Staff Harassed, Stalked by Patients. (Expert Intervention Crucial)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Mental Health Staff Harassed, Stalked by Patients. (Expert Intervention Crucial)

Article excerpt

BOSTON -- Although serious harassment and stalking of mental health professionals by patients are relatively rare, milder cases are common and can cause psychiatrists serious distress and disruption, Dr. Renee Binder said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

There is no foolproof strategy for dealing with this situation: What helps in one case may make another worse. But consultation with an expert appears to be almost always useful, said Dr. Binder of the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Binder reported the results of a survey of the entire mental health staff of an inpatient unit at the university--the first such inclusive study. Of 82 providers questioned about their experience of stalking, threatening, or harassing behavior, 62 (76%) responded. The majority were nurses (65%) followed by psychiatrists (14%), social workers (8%), psychologists (8%), and rehabilitation therapists of various types (5%).

Thirty-three (53%) of the respondents said they had been the targets of such behavior, 17 of whom agreed to be interviewed in detail. The perpetrators were 28 patients, most of whom had schizophrenia, manic disorder, or personality disorder. More than half were former patients in the unit, Dr. Binder said.

Half of respondents reported harassing telephone calls or letters; 46% reported unwanted approach or surveillance. Just 4% had been physically attacked, but 4% had property destroyed, and 18% were threatened with harm. In 29% of cases, harassment continued for 3 months or more. …

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