July 2, 2018 – Psychological Autopsy


Anchor lead: Can a medical examiner’s look at someone’s life help understand suicide and mental illness? Elizabeth Tracey reports

Have you heard of a psychological autopsy? Karen Swartz, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins and depression expert, says such a tool is sometimes used in research to look at circumstances surrounding suicide when no known mental illness is present.

Swartz: Psychological autopsy is a process where typically the coroner, after someone’s death, will try to get as much information as possible. It can be from friends, it can be from family, it can be from physicians and other providers. The issue is you’re not just limiting yourself to what was formally known. So for psychiatric conditions we know that many people who have psychiatric problems do not get treatment. So it’s critical because it underscores how many people that die from suicide actually had issues that were not in treatment at all. :31

Swartz says developing effective interventions to stem our burgeoning suicide epidemic will require destigmatizing mental illness so people do seek treatment and training many more mental healthcare providers. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.