Reported Experiences of Stalking Behavior from Patients towards Psychiatrists from the Atlantic Provinces of Canada
Introduction: Stalking is repeated acts, experienced as unpleasantly intrusive, that creates apprehension and can be understood by reasonably prudent persons as grounds for becoming fearful. Doctors and healthcare professionals are at greater risk than the general population of being stalked, particularly by their patients. Stalking behaviour is particularly significant among psychiatric patients that put mental health professionals at a greater risk of being victimized. Stalkers generally come from turbulent backgrounds, having experienced violent childhood, loss of caretaker, contact with criminal justice system, social isolation and significant losses a year prior to stalking behavior.
Aim: A study was conducted to assess the magnitude of stalking experienced by psychiatrists, its’ effects and actions taken to ameliorate the problem.
Methods: A cross sectional study to assess the magnitude of stalking the consequent effects on the psychological, social and occupational life of psychiatrists; and any preventative measure taken was conducted from July 2009-April 2010. A questionnaire was sent to 301 psychiatrists practicing in Atlantic Canada. Local Ethics approval was obtained.
Results: Of the 308 psychiatrists sent surveys, 116 responded (37.6%; 67 males and 47 females).One questionnaire was invalid. (Twenty-nine (15 males and 14 females) reported experiences of stalking. Fifty-eight (50.4%) were above age 50, 49 (42.6%) were between ages 35-50 and (8) 7% were younger than 35. In the study cohort, 39(33.6%) psychiatrists were in pure clinical practice, 4(3.4%) were in academic practice and 71(61.2%) had combined clinical and academic practice. Among the subspecialties, 73(62.9%) psychiatrists were practicing general adult psychiatry, 19(16.4%) were child and adolescent psychiatrists, 6(5.2%) in geriatric psychiatry, 4(3.4%) in consultation-liaison, 5(4.3%) in forensic, 1(0.9%) in developmental disability and 7(6.0%) were in other psychiatric specialties. Of 115 psychiatrists, 53(46.1%) were in practice for more than 15 years, 16 (13.9%) were from 11–15 years, 29 (25.2%)-from 5 to 10 years and 17(14.8%) were in practice for less than 5 years. There was no significant differences [OR] (Odds Ratio values), p-values>0.05) in reported stalked for age or length of psychiatric practice. However, there was strong association of stalking with the distress experienced by the psychiatrists (p=0.00).
Conclusion: The problem of stalking does exist in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada and causes immense psychological, professional and social distress among psychiatrists who fall victim to stalking behavior. The majority of mental health professionals are unaware of any laws against stalking in Canada. There is a need for more effective education, support services and redress if we are to ameliorate the burden associated with stalking behaviours.
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