Absconding: A qualitative perspective of patients leaving inpatient psychiatric care

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Absconding from inpatient psychiatric care is a complex problem with significant and broad ranging effects for patients, staff, family/carers, and the broader community. Absconding includes leaving the ward without permission and failing to return from leave at an agreed time. This study is a retrospective chart audit of a data set of absconding events from 11 psychiatric wards in a metropolitan Australian city. The data set included both quantitative and qualitative data. The focus of this study is analysis of the qualitative data documenting what happened during events, with quantitative data provided to contextualize the qualitative analysis. A total of 995 absconding events by 488 patients were reported between January 2016 and June 2018, representing a rate of 1.6 per 100 admissions. Two themes were identified in the qualitative analysis. ‘Having things to do’ encompassed opportunistic absconding and volitional absconding. ‘Something changed’ represented predisposing events that affected the absconding behaviour, such as being stepped down in care (moving from a more acute to a less acute psychiatric unit), receiving bad news, or interpersonal conflict either between patients or between nursing staff and patients. Results highlight the importance of harm minimization strategies to reduce the incidence of absconding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1127-1135
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Nursing
Issue number5
Early online date4 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • absconding
  • psychiatric care
  • qualitative


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