Emergency hospital admissions for alcohol a red flag for suicide risk – new report

Patients admitted to hospital in an emergency for alcohol-related reasons are at significantly higher risk of suicide - and should be treated by hospital staff in a similar way to patients who have self-harmed, according to a new report.

The study by Public Health Wales and Cardiff and Swansea Universities found that these patients were 27 times more likely to go on to take their own life compared with those who had not been admitted for alcohol-related reasons.

Although the total number of suicides was greater in men, the risk increase was greater in women, who had a 29 times greater risk. The risk was 10 times greater for men.

The risk of suicide was greatest in patients with mental health difficulties - but an increased risk was also associated with patients with no previously reported mental health issues.

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Dr Bethan Bowden from Public Health Wales said: “For the first time we know that emergency alcohol-related hospital admission is associated with an increased risk of suicide – especially for women. 

“This is important because patients, many of whom will have no previously reported mental health concerns, could be being treated without exploring underlying issues linked to an increased risk of suicide.

"Hospital staff are in a unique position to assess patients who may not otherwise come forward for help.  Our advice to clinicians is that these patients should be treated similarly to those who have been identified as self-harming: undertake a psycho-social assessment, and refer them to mental health services if appropriate.

“This study indicates a need to consider targeted interventions for patients admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related condition as part of a suicide prevention strategy.”

Alcohol use is known to be associated with a higher risk of future suicide, but this is the first study to identify the association with emergency alcohol-related admissions.

The study was published in medical journal in PLosOne on 27 April 2018. It followed all Welsh residents, aged from 10 to 100, for six years.  It looked at patients who were admitted to hospital with an emergency alcohol-related admission, including acute intoxication, alcohol dependence, as well as physical health complications related to alcohol use.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK for men aged 20-49 years and women aged 20-34 years.

More information on Public Health Wales is available at www.publichealthwales.org