Deliberate self-harm (DSH) is the strongest risk factor for future suicide. Up-to-date information on the extent of risk is lacking.
To investigate the risk of suicide after DSH during a long follow-up period.
A mortality follow-up study to 2000 was conducted on 11583 patients who presented to hospital after DSH between 1978 and 1997. Data were obtained from a general hospital DSH register in Oxford and the Office for National Statistics, and from equivalent mortality registers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Three hundred patients had died by suicide or probable suicide. The risk in the first year of follow-up was 0.7% (95% CI 0.6–0.9%), which was 66 (95% CI 52–82) times the annual risk of suicide in the general population. The risk after 5 years was 1.7%, at 10 years 2.4% and at 15 years 3.0%. The risk was far higher in men than in women (hazard ratio 2.8, 95% CI 2.2–3.6). In both genders it increased markedly with age at initial presentation.
Following DSH there is a significant and persistent risk of suicide, which varies markedly between genders and age groups. Reduction in the risk of suicide following DSH must be a key element in national suicide prevention strategies.