An audit of patient aggression in an adult psychiatric unit: 2013–2014 – 2018

The aim of this study was to determine the rates of patient aggression in a psychiatric unit over 12 months and to determine underlying causes, notably the role of substances.

A retrospective file audit was undertaken of all patients admitted to St Vincent’s psychiatric unit (Melbourne, Australia) in the first half of 2013 and 2014 involved in an aggressive incident. Patient information included demographics, psychiatric, substance and aggression history. The setting and context of aggression and associated mental state findings were also reviewed.

There were 26 aggressive incidents in 2013 and 63 in 2014, perpetrated by 11 and 34 patients respectively. No significant differences were found between the groups’ baseline demographics. The 2014 cohort was significantly more likely to have substance use history (odds ratio (OR) 4.83) and have made threats to staff (OR 4.07) but significantly less likely to be distracted by internal stimuli (OR 0.05). There were also (not statistically significant) trends for the 2014 cohort; they were more likely to report a history of alcohol use (OR 3.9); be accompanied to emergency department by police (OR 2.95) and have leave prior to aggression (χ2 = 7.37).

Aggressive incidents more than doubled over 12 months. Substance use appeared to be a major factor associated with aggression. These findings have implications for service provision and training. Further research is needed to better understand and manage substances in psychiatric settings.

Claire Ewing, Andrea Phillipou, David Castle
Australasian Psychiatry, 2018