Absconding: a literature review

J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 1998 Oct;5(5):343-53. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2850.1998.00149.x.


Incidents of absconding from inpatient care are high-risk events which have been linked to serious harm to self and others. This paper brings together for the first time findings from a disparate body of research literature spanning many years. Varied definitions of absconding and methods of calculating the rates of absconding make comparisons between studies difficult. Nevertheless, it is clear that absconders are more often young, male, from disadvantaged groups, and suffering from schizophrenia, compared to admissions generally. Roughly half of the abscondings take place while the patient is temporarily off the ward with permission, the remainder of absconding patients use an assortment of means to make their escape. A large variety of reasons for absconding have been elicited from patients or advanced as possibilities by researchers. Only six evaluative studies of interventions impacting upon absconding have been reported in the literature, but no firm conclusions can be drawn from them.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Motivation
  • Patient Dropouts* / psychology
  • Patient Dropouts* / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychiatric Nursing
  • Research Design
  • Treatment Refusal* / psychology
  • Treatment Refusal* / statistics & numerical data