Abstract Numerous studies have examined the effects of burn size and depth, age, concomitant injury, and illness upon burn patient mortality and duration of stay in hospital, and other studies have stressed the importance of psychosocial factors in the causation of burns. However, scant attention has been given to the effects of psychosocial factors on burn mortality and length of stay in hospital. Data on psychiatric diagnoses, substance abuse, and factors in severity of injury were abstracted from the charts of patients admitted to the San Diego Regional Burn Treatment Center. Mortality data were analysed using logistic regression. After adjusting for severity of the burn injury, statistically significant increases in mortality are associated with the diagnosis of character or personality disorder, schizophrenia, alcohol intoxication at the time of injury, and a variable indicating a psychiatric diagnosis or severe undiagnosed problems. Comments on individual charts suggest that overtly self-destructive behaviour during treatment caused the increased mortality. Data on duration of stay in hospital among survivors were analysed using multiple linear regression. After adjusting for severity of injury, significantly longer stays are associated with suicidal intention, diagnosis of character or personality disorder, schizophrenia, senility and a variable indicating a psychiatric diagnosis or severe undiagnosed problems. Overtly self-destructive behaviour, treatment of psychiatric problems, and the inability of some patients to care for themselves may each contribute to the longer stay in hospital.