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Depression

Psychiatrists and Suicide

01/31/2008

Question:

If a patient is clearly suicidal, what are the requirements of the doctor? Are they compelled to share with spouse or the authorities?

Answer:

The psychiatrist is not compelled to inform the spouse or authorities of a patient's suicidal intentions. According to the Tarasoff ruling, a physician is compelled to warn intended victims if his or her patient is intent on harming that person. However, the psychiatrist is not compelled to warn others of a patient's intent to harm himself. In some cases, confidentiality may prevent such a warning. However, in most cases it is both possible and therapeutic for the psychiatrist to take the initiative with the patient's cooperation to inform important family members about the patient's need for urgent care because of suicidal intent.

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Response by:

Lawson  Wulsin, MD Lawson Wulsin, MD
Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, Training Director of the Family Medicine Psychiatry Residency Program
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati