By linking three decades of hospital and mortality records in Scotland, this research discovered that a quarter of people who died by suicide had been admitted to hospital in the three months before they took their lives. This new insight into suicide demonstrates the importance and potential of involving hospitals in suicide prevention.

Why was this work needed?

In 2013, nearly 7,000 people in the UK took their own life, but relatively little is known about how these people interacted with the NHS in the lead up to their deaths. By understanding more about what happens to people in the time immediately before they attempt suicide, this research aims to change this and, ultimately, help prevent people from taking their own lives.

What happened?

This study linked the death records of people who had died by suicide in Scotland between 1981 and 2010 to their existing life-time hospital records. The records indicated that a quarter of these people had been admitted to hospital in the three months prior to taking their own lives, with more general hospital admissions than admissions into psychiatric hospitals.

What were the benefits?

This work demonstrates that the period immediately following discharge from hospital is critical in suicide risk. It also shows that it’s not just psychiatric hospitals that need better support for patients at risk of suicide - in this study, people who went on to die by suicide were more frequently last admitted to a general hospital.

What type of data was involved?

This study linked the National Records of Scotland (NRS) deaths register with the Scottish Morbidity Records (an NHS Scotland database combining hospital admissions, cancer registration and death records).

Approved researchers were provided with data which was de-personalised. The NHS Information Services Division attached unique encrypted numbers to each anonymised death or hospital record allowing the researchers to link the relevant records together using the encrypted number.

This study was approved by Lothian Research Ethics Committee, the Privacy Advisory Committee (PAC) of NHS Information Services Division and the Registrar General of NRS. Caldicott Guardian approval was granted as part of the PAC approval.

Who funded and collaborated on this work?

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government part funded this project.

Where can I go for more information?

Deaths by suicide and their relationship with general and psychiatric hospital discharge

A Matter of Life and Death: how your health information can make a difference

For further information or to seek help with suicidal thoughts or feelings please contact the Samaritans – www.samaritans.org