Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Suicide in recently discharged psychiatric patients: a case-control study

I. M. Hunta1 c1, N. Kapura1, R. Webba2, J. Robinsona1, J. Burnsa1, J. Shawa1 and L. Applebya1

a1 National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness, Centre for Suicide Prevention, University Place, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

a2 Centre for Women's Mental Health Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, University Place, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK


Background Few controlled studies have specifically investigated aspects of mental health care in relation to suicide risk among recently discharged psychiatric patients. We aimed to identify risk factors, including variation in healthcare received, for suicide within 3 months of discharge.

Method We conducted a national population-based case-control study of 238 psychiatric patients dying by suicide within 3 months of hospital discharge, matched on date of discharge to 238 living controls.

Results Forty-three per cent of suicides occurred within a month of discharge, 47% of whom died before their first follow-up appointment. The first week and the first day after discharge were particular high-risk periods. Risk factors for suicide included a history of self-harm, a primary diagnosis of affective disorder, recent last contact with services and expressing clinical symptoms at last contact with staff. Suicide cases were more likely to have initiated their own discharge and to have missed their last appointment with services. Patients who were detained for compulsory treatment at last admission, or who were subject to enhanced levels of aftercare, were less likely to die by suicide.

Conclusions The weeks after discharge from psychiatric care represent a critical period for suicide risk. Measures that could reduce risk include intensive and early community follow-up. Assessment of risk should include established risk factors as well as current mental state and there should be clear follow-up procedures for those who have self-discharged. Recent detention under the Mental Health Act and current use of enhanced levels of aftercare may be protective.

(Received September 10 2007)

(Revised March 30 2008)

(Accepted April 18 2008)

(Online publication May 28 2008)


c1 Address for correspondence: I. M. Hunt, Centre for Suicide Prevention, University Place, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. (Email: