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Psychological Autopsy

What is a Psychological Autopsy?

A psychological autopsy (sometimes referred to as an Equivocal Death Investigation) is usually carried out by a professional (such as Forensic Mental Health Speci​alist, Psychologist, Psychiatrist etc) in order to understand the state of mind of a deceased individual in the last weeks and months of their life.  In effect it is a psychological profile/report, created by gathering together lots of information about the individual and then compiling this in a psychological report so that interested parties (families, law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, corporate entities and healthcare agencies for example) can better understand the deceased's sense of mental health and wellbeing leading up to when they died.  Psychological Autopsies are more common in the United States than they are in Europe, but this is rapidly changing.  Psychological Autopsies can be conducted internationally, thanks to developments in technology.

How is Information Gathered for the Psychological Autopsy?

The professional whose job it is to gather the information and write the Psychological Autopsy Report will often want to speak with several relevant parties such as: family members, friends, previous employers of the deceased, healthcare providers and primary care physician (GP) of the deceased, and anybody else who may have valuable information based on their interaction with the deceased in the last days and weeks of their life.  The professional will also want to review medical records of the deceased, legal documents and court records (where relevant), prescription records, therapy notes and the post-mortem examination report.  Interviews will often take place virtually, especially where the investigation crosses international borders or where relevant witnesses are located in different locations nationally or internationally.

How Long Does a Psychological Autopsy Take?

This generally depends on the availability of information needed, but as a rule of thumb a standard time period tends to be 6-8 weeks.  Where interviews can be carried out virtually, this of course saves a great deal of time and expense.  In more complex cases or where there is an extended wait time (for receipt of medical records, toxicology reports, police reports, post-mortem examination reports for example) the timeframes can be significantly longer.

Who Can Request a Psychological Autopsy?

Different jurisdictions will often have different rules on this, but as a general rule, the party requesting a Psychological Autopsy will need to be an individual or entity that has legal authority to do so.  Often-times, the entity will have a court order or mandate to request a Psychological Autopsy or a family member requesting one will need to have power of attorney over the deceased's affairs.  When instructed to carry out a Psychological Autopsy, the professional will first want to establish the rights of the individual/entity to request such an investigation and to see documentary evidence to this effect, which is relevant in their jurisdiction.

How Much Does a Psychological Autopsy Cost?

This depends on a whole range of factors, so is discussed on an individual basis once an initial assessment of the case has been carried out.

What if I/We Want Further Information?

Please get in touch with me, Kevin O'Doherty via the contact me page of this website and I will be happy to discuss further.

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