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Keywords:

  • older people;
  • deliberate self-harm (DSH);
  • retrospective analysis;
  • outcome;
  • mortality

Abstract

Background

Rates of suicide remain high among older people and those who deliberately self harm are believed to be at an increased risk of killing themselves in the future. If older people who deliberately harm themselves are to be helped by developments in services we need to understand what currently happens to them in terms of service provision and outcome.

Methods

A retrospective paper and electronic case note survey was carried out on all older people living in the London Borough of Barnet who presented to Accident & Emergency Departments with DSH over a two-year period. Ensuing actions and events were then tracked.

Results

Forty-three older people with DSH were identified. 18/43 (42%) had previous contact with local psychiatric services. The main method of DSH was overdose of medication (36/43 or 84%). Compared to the general population there were more women and widows. There were similar levels of physical ill-health. Thirty-seven of 43 (86%) received documented psychiatric input outside of hospital following the DSH. The mean follow-up period was 789.0 days (SD 419.8) and during this time 8/43 (19%) had a further documented episode of DSH, and 18/43 (40%) died from natural causes.

Conclusions

This study confirms the need for improved documentation of DSH and its coding; this needs to be reviewed at local and national level. The vast majority of older people who attempt suicide do have subsequent contact with psychiatric services. There is a strong likelihood of repeat DSH and a higher risk of death by natural causes, emphasising the need to conceptualise DSH as a risk factor relevant to all medical specialities. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.