Impaired Communication May Predict Coercive Psychiatric Care

Psychiatric patients with impaired communication abilities were significantly more likely to be admitted involuntarily to inpatient care and to experience coercive measures after admission, based on data from more than 1,500 individuals.

Celline Cole

Despite improvements in reducing coercive measures in psychiatric inpatient care, both involuntary admission and coercive measures remain in use in many countries worldwide, wrote Celline Cole, MSc, a doctoral candidate at Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, and colleagues. Such measures are considered “severe violations of a person’s rights to self-determination and personal freedom,” they wrote.

Previous studies have identified characteristics that increase the risk of involuntary inpatient admission, but the association between patients’ communication ability and coercive measures has not been explored, they noted.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the investigators reviewed data from 1,556 adults who were admitted to psychiatric inpatient care at a single center in Germany in 2019. Patients’ communication ability was defined and recorded as one of the following: perfect; limited because of language or other reasons; or impossible because of language or other reasons (no communication).

Overall, 23% of patients were admitted involuntarily; the most common reasons for referral to inpatient care in the study population were physical aggression against individuals (8%) or objects (4%), and verbal aggression (7%). A total of 1,085 patients (70%) were able or willing to communicate.

Patients with limited or no communication ability because of language issues were three to four times more likely to be admitted involuntarily (odds ratios, 3.08 and 4.02, respectively), while those with limited or no communication ability because of nonlanguage issues were even more likely to be admitted involuntarily (ORs, 3.10 and 13.71, respectively), compared with patients without communication problems.

Patients with limited communication ability because of language issues also were significantly more likely than those without communication issues to experience coercive measures (OR, 4.53), as were patients with either limited or no communication ability because of no-language issues (ORs, 1.58 and 3.55, respectively).

Involuntary admission was defined as provisional detention, detention initiated by the patient’s legal guardian followed by a court order, or detention by court order “according to the Mental Health Law of the State of Berlin,” the researchers said. The average length of inpatient stay was 19 days. The age of the patients ranged from 18 to 96 years, with a mean age of 41.5 years, and 63% identified as male. Approximately two-thirds (62%) were unemployed or job-seeking during their treatment period, 38% were living alone, and 17% were homeless.

Although most of the study population (84%) was of German nationality, nearly half (48%) had a first- or second-generation migration background, the researchers noted.

“When thinking about effectively targeting this issue it is crucial to consider the different reasons why patients are limited in their ability to communicate,” the researchers wrote in their discussion. “Considering the rising numbers of refugees and persons with a migration background in Germany and many other countries worldwide, it is likely that more and more individuals with a language barrier will present at psychiatric emergency rooms,” they emphasized.

The findings were limited by several factors including the retrospective design, the relatively small number of patients with limitations or complete inability to communicate, and the use of data from a single hospital, and the incomplete data on nonlanguage reasons for limited or no communication ability, the researchers noted. Future studies should include more complete measures for recording these reasons, and data on forced medication, they added.

However, the results were strengthened by the range of sociodemographic, clinical, and admission-related variables in a large and representative sample, and highlight the need for appropriate interventions for patients with communication challenges, they said.

“Adequate financial and human resources need to be allocated to psychiatric hospitals that allow for high quality, available, and accessible interpretation services as well as mobilization of patients’ support networks during and after admission,” they concluded.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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