Death and suicide among former child and adolescent psychiatric patients

Ulf Engqvist, Per-Anders Rydelius
BMC Psychiatry 2006, 6: 51

BACKGROUND: Increased mortality rates among previous child and adolescent psychiatry (CAP) patients have been found in Scandinavian studies up to the 1980s. The suicide risk in this group has been estimated to be almost five times higher than expected. This article addresses two questions: Do Swedish CAP patients continue to risk premature death and what kind of information related to psychiatric symptoms and/or behavior problems can predict later suicide?

METHODS: Hospital files, Sweden's census databases (including immigration and emigration) and administrative databases (including the Swedish Hospital Discharge register and the Persons Convicted of Offences register), and the Cause of Death register were examined to determine the mortality rate in a group of 1,400 former CAP inpatients and outpatients over a period of 12-33 years. Observed and expected numbers of deceased were calculated with the prospective method and the standardized mortality ratio (SMR) method. The relative risk or the risk ratio (RR) is presented with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Significance level tests were made using two-by-two tables and chi-square tests. The Cox proportional-hazards regression model was used for survival analysis.

RESULTS: Twenty-four males and 14 females died. Compared with the general population, the standardized mortality ratio in this group of CAP patients was significantly higher in both sexes. Behavioral problems, school problems, and co-morbid alcohol or drug abuse and criminality (including alcohol-related crimes) were found to be important predictors. Thirty-two deaths were attributed to suicide, intoxication, drug overdose, or accident; one patient died of an alcohol abuse-related disorder, and five patients died of natural causes. Suicide was the most common cause of death, but only 2 of these 19 cases were initially admitted for attempted suicide.

CONCLUSION: We suggest that suicide and death prevention among CAP patients may not be a psychiatric issue per se but a future function of society's juvenile social-welfare investments and juvenile-delinquency prevention programs.

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