Absconding: A review of the literature 1996-2008

Int J Ment Health Nurs. 2008 Oct;17(5):370-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0349.2008.00562.x.


Absconding is a significant problem with potential for harm to patients or the general public. The consequences of absconding include physical harm, prolonged treatment time, and substantial economic costs. The aim of this systematic literature review is to synthesize quality literature about absconding from psychiatric facilities, identify gaps in knowledge, and make recommendations for practice. An electronic search yielded 39 journal articles that met the review criteria. Findings demonstrate that a single definition of absconding remains elusive, making the prevalence of absconding difficult to establish. Absconding events are multifactorial, with environmental, psychosocial, and organic aspects. Negative consequences exist including violence, aggression, and self-neglect and harm to self and others. Papers are clustered around the following themes: harm and risk, absconder profiles, absconding rates, and perceptions of nurses and patients. Nursing interventions designed to decrease absconding have been implemented with success, but only in a few studies and in Australia, none have been reported in the literature to date. Further research is required to identify appropriate nursing-based interventions that may prove useful in reducing the risk of absconding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Australia
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Escape Reaction*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / nursing*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Patient Dropouts / psychology
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychiatric Department, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / nursing
  • Security Measures
  • Substance-Related Disorders / nursing
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Young Adult