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Keywords:

  • case-control study;
  • psychiatric illness;
  • risk factors;
  • suicide.

Objective:  To identify the risk period and the risk factors for suicide in Chinese psychiatric patients after discharge from inpatient psychiatric treatment. The nature of psychiatric aftercare provided to these patients was also explored.

Method:  A case control study with 73 patients who were discharged from a large psychiatric unit in Hong Kong between January 1996 and December 1999 and had received coroners’ verdict of suicide or undetermined death within the same period. Controls were 73 surviving patients discharged from the same unit. They were individually matched for sex, age, psychiatric diagnosis, and date of discharge.

Results:  Post-discharge clustering of suicides was observed among the cases. Nearly 80% of them died within 1 year of discharge. The most common principal diagnosis among the cases was schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders. Multivariate analysis showed that suicide was associated with: unemployment (OR = 12.2, 95% CI = 2.1 − 70.4), past suicidal attempts (OR = 3.4, 95% CI = 1.2 − 9.6), maternal mental illness (OR = 13.4, 95% CI = 1.0 − 170.0), and suicidal ideation or attempt before the last admission (OR = 5.0, 95% CI = 1.4 − 18.0). The psychiatric aftercare received by cases and controls were generally similar. However, cases were more likely to have had contact with health care services in the last week before death (OR = 4.0, 95% CI = 1.3 − 11.9).

Conclusions:  Suicidal risk is high in Chinese psychiatric patients soon after discharge. They share some common risk factors for suicide identified in Western studies but several differences are evident: the predominance of schizophrenia in the suicides; the lower prevalence of substance abuse and comorbidity; the low proportion of patients living alone; and the increased clinical contact before death but the less suicidal intent expressed in Chinese patients. It is necessary to consider these socio-cultural factors in assessment of suicidal risk and implementation of suicide prevention strategies in Chinese psychiatric patients.