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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