Open Access Open Badges Research article

Perceived competence and attitudes towards patients with suicidal behaviour: a survey of general practitioners, psychiatrists and internists

Tine K Grimholt12*, Ole R Haavet3, Dag Jacobsen1, Leiv Sandvik4 and Oivind Ekeberg15

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Acute Medicine, Oslo University Hospital, Pb. 4950 Nydalen, Oslo 0424, Norway

2 Regional Centre of Violence, Traumatic Stress and Suicide Prevention Eastern Norway, Oslo, Norway

3 Department of General Practice, Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

4 Department of Biostatistics Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway

5 Department of Behavioural Sciences in Medicine, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:208  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-208

Published: 8 May 2014



Competence and attitudes to suicidal behaviour among physicians are important to provide high-quality care for a large patient group. The aim was to study different physicians’ attitudes towards suicidal behaviour and their perceived competence to care for suicidal patients.


A random selection (n = 750) of all registered General Practitioners, Psychiatrists and Internists in Norway received a questionnaire. The response rate was 40%. The Understanding of Suicidal Patients Scale (USP; scores < 23 = positive attitude) and items about suicide in case of incurable illness from the Attitudes Towards Suicide Questionnaire were used. Five-point Likert scales were used to measure self-perceived competence, level of commitment, empathy and irritation felt towards patients with somatic and psychiatric diagnoses. Questions about training were included.


The physicians held positive attitudes towards suicide attempters (USP = 20.3, 95% CI: 19.6–20.9). Internists and males were significantly less positive. There were no significant differences in the physicians in their attitudes toward suicide in case of incurable illness according to specialty. The physicians were most irritated and less committed to substance misuse patients. Self perceived competence was relatively high. Forty-three percent had participated in courses about suicide assessment and treatment.


The physicians reported positive attitudes and relatively high competence. They were least committed to treat patients with substance misuse. None of the professional groups thought that patients with incurable illness should be given help to commit suicide.

Further customized education with focus on substance misuse might be useful.

Attitudes; Incurable illness; Substance misuse; Suicide attempt; Physicians