100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better

Can Data Be Used to Help Prevent Suicides?

Published on: 3rd October 2016

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Case Study 11
Public Health

Nadine Dougall, Prof Paul Lambert, Prof Margaret Maxwell and Dr Alison Dawson, University of Stirling
Prof Richard Sinnott and Susan McCafferty, National e-Science Centre, University of Glasgow
Carole Morris, David Clark and Dr Anthea Springbett, NHS Information Services Division, Edinburgh

A team of researchers from The Farr Institute in Scotland analysed data to see if there is a relationship between people dying by suicide and the last time they visited hospital.

The Challenge

Suicide is tragically the leading cause of death in young people in the UK. Men are affected three times more than women and more people die each year by suicide than by road traffic accidents.

Whether people who die by suicide had recently attended general or psychiatric hospitals, or whether they have a history of mental ill-health isn’t often known. By looking at hospital records and the last hospital visit of individuals who died by suicide, scientists can identify the people who are most at risk and also where action can be taken to reduce the number of people losing their lives in
this way.

The Research

Three decades worth of suicide records in Scotland, from 1980 to 2010 for those aged 15 or over were linked to hospital records. The data was made anonymous before being studied in a safe and trustworthy way. Permission was granted from the NHS to verify that the data was being used in the public’s best interest and that the researchers were qualified to access it.

The Results

The results showed that more people were discharged from general hospitals than psychiatric hospitals before they died by suicide. Many of these deaths occurred soon after people left hospital which suggests that there could be missed opportunities to prevent some people from dying by suicide.

Two thirds of the 16,411 suicides studied could be linked to hospital records and were examined to see what treatment individuals had received before they took their own life.

A quarter of people died by suicide within three months of the last time they were discharged from hospital and only 14% of those discharged from a general hospital had a diagnosed mental illness recorded in their medical records during last visit. One in five of these people had a previous history of mental illness that had not been recorded.

The Impact

The research will help improve activities and training in hospitals that can prevent some suicides from happening. It showed that by making better use of health records, hospitals could follow-up with patients who have self-harmed, in particular young men, and assess those who have a history of self-harming or of mental illness.

This work was presented to The Farr Institute’s NHS Benefits Realisation Taskforce as an example of the benefits that using data in research can provide for patients. This group assesses how the Institute’s work in Scotland is supporting safe and effective improvements to health and care for patients.

It was also presented at a House of Commons event run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Medical Research to highlight the importance of using data in medical research.

As well as being reported by The Independent, the research was referred to by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the professional body responsible for managing standards in psychiatry, as a study that “prompts call for better suicide prevention activity in general hospitals”.

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

Enquiries to Cherry Martin, Communications Manager, The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, cherry.martin@ed.ac.uk

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