Psychological autopsy interviews in suicide research: The reactions of informants
Hawton K., Houston K., Malmberg A., Simkin S.
Psychological autopsy studies in which in-depth interviews are conducted with relatives or other informants are a key method of investigation in suicide research. These interviews are likely to be emotive and potentially stressful for informants. We followed up 68 informants approximately one month after they were interviewed in three recent studies of suicide in high risk groups (young people, farmers and doctors) to determine their reactions to the interviews. Nearly all the informants (96.9%) said they preferred being approached through a letter from a member of the research team rather than by someone else. While some relatives (22.1%) understandably reported being upset during the interview and/or immediately afterwards, a month later only one informant reported feeling worse than usual. A beneficial effect was suggested in at least a third. Although only 30 informants accepted the offer of a bereavement information pack, probably because in many cases the interviews were conducted rather a long time after the deaths, 90% of these found the pack helpful. It is suggested that such a pack be included in future psychological autopsy studies and that follow-up evaluations of the kind reported here be conducted in order to ensure that potential negative effects of such studies be identified and avoided in further studies.