When a Patient Dies

For the psychodynamic psychiatrist who is accustomed to working with individual patients at a high frequency, the impact of a patient’s death may be considerable. Inasmuch as treatment is often based on intimate professional relationship, the death of a patient may create a stressful period of bereavement. How did the patient die? Accidental overdose? Suicide? Other?

In “Supporting Providers After Drug Overdose Death,” A.M. Yule and F R. Levin (Am J Psychiatry pp173-176, 176:2, March 2019) offer the case of a psychiatric resident whose opioid-dependent patient overdosed. The impact on the resident, her supervisor, and the course of support are described. The authors note that few training programs have an institutional protocol for support of the provider? As the authors write, “We need to do better with supporting one another and to work together collectively as a field to identify ways to improve our practices and system of care as we care of patients at risk for adverse events such as unexpected death.”