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Psychiatr Serv. 1997 Dec;48(12):1567-70.

Ethical benefits and costs of coercion in short-term inpatient psychiatric care.

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Department of Psychiatric Research, Västerås Hospital, Sweden.



The study examined the outcome of psychiatric inpatient care in terms of patients' reports of ethical benefits, which were defined as fulfillment of the ethical principles of beneficence and autonomy, and ethical costs, which were defined as any violation of those principles.


A consecutive sample of 84 committed patients and a random sample of 84 voluntarily admitted patients in psychiatric care in two Swedish counties were studied. The patients were assessed twice by a psychiatrist, at admission and at discharge or after three weeks of care. They were also interviewed by a clinical psychologist at discharge or after three weeks. Four aspects of the ethical benefits or costs of their care were examined--whether they reported improvement in mental health, being treated with respect, not being violated as a person, and not being exposed to measures against their will (aside from commitment).


The great majority of all patients reported improvement as a result of the psychiatric care. A third of the committed patients and more than half of the voluntarily admitted patients experienced ethical benefits only, without ethical costs. Twenty-three percent of the committed patients and 13 percent of the voluntary patients experienced ethical costs only, without ethical benefits. Some of the patients who experienced ethical costs only were also rated by a psychiatrist as not improved.


Few patients had no measurable benefits of care. For committed as well as voluntary patients, an association was found between perceived respect for autonomy and self-reported improvement in mental health.

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