Psychological autopsies: methods and ethics

Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1990 Winter;20(4):307-23.


Essential knowledge on suicide is derived from studies that include interviews with survivors. In this paper, we discuss methodological and ethical issues pertaining to the interview method known as "psychological autopsy"; the discussion is based on our application of the method to three studies of suicides in Sweden and on a review of other investigations. Interviewing a survivor is a delicate matter, and the integrity of the deceased, the integrity and health of the informant, and the psychological strain on the interviewer must all be taken into consideration. The interviewer should have clinical experience in order to be prepared to deal with interviewees in grief. Contact by telephone, followed by an introductory letter, provides an opportunity to meet survivors in an empathic manner and has a low rejection rate. A 2- to 6-month interval between suicide and interview is recommended. The survivor's reactions to the interview should be evaluated in order to expand the empirical base for ethical considerations. Studies on the validity and reliability of the method are necessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Behavioral Research*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Family / psychology
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide / psychology*