Suicide Methods and Specific Types of Accidental Death and Fatal Poisoning Among Discharged Psychiatric Patients: A National Cohort Study

Objective: Persons discharged from inpatient psychiatric units are at greatly elevated risk of dying unnaturally. We conducted a comprehensive examination of specific causes of unnatural death post-discharge in a national register-based cohort.

Method: A cohort of 1,683,645 Danish residents born 1967–1996 was followed from their 15th birthday until death, emigration, or December 31, 2011, whichever came first. Survival analysis techniques were used to estimate incidence rate ratios (IRRs) comparing risk for persons with and without psychiatric admission history in relation to (a) suicide method, (b) accidental death type, (c) fatal poisoning type, and (d) homicide.

Results: More than half (52.5%, n = 711) of all unnatural deaths post-discharge were fatal poisonings, compared with less than a fifth (17.0%, n = 1,012) among persons in the general population not admitted. Just 6.8% (n = 92) of all unnatural deaths post-discharge were due to transport accidents—the most common unnatural death type in the general population (53.4%, n = 3,184). Suicide risk was 32 times higher among discharged patients (IRR 32.3; 95% CI, 29.2–35.8) and was even higher during the first year post-discharge (IRR 70.4; 95% CI, 59.7–83.0). Among the suicide methods examined, relative risk values were significantly larger for intentional self-poisoning (IRR 40.8; 95% CI, 33.9–49.1) than for “violent” suicide methods (IRR 29.4; 95% CI, 26.1–33.2). The greatest relative risk observed was for fatal poisoning (irrespective of intent) by psychotropic medication (IRR 93.7; 95% CI, 62.5–140.5). The highest post-discharge mortality rate was for accidental self-poisoning among persons diagnosed with a psychoactive substance abuse disorder: 290.1 per 100,000 person-years.

Conclusions: Closer liaison between inpatient services and community care, more effective early treatment for comorbid substance abuse, enhanced psychosocial assessment following self-harm, and tighter medication surveillance could decrease risk of unnatural death post-discharge.

J Clin Psychiatry 2018;79(6):17m11809