Suicides by people in contact with mental health services are arguably the most preventable. There is scope for reducing some of these tragic events through improved systems of care. The first Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Workplan includes a zero-suicide ambition for mental health inpatients, with a view to expand to include all mental health service users, alongside the national ambition to reduce the total number of suicides by 10% by 2020/21.
In 2017, there were 1,216 suicides in England by people who had been in contact with mental health services in the previous 12 months. In Scotland there were 223 patient suicides in 2017 and in Wales there were 78. Patient data in 2017 for Northern Ireland were not reported, so the total number for the UK cannot be compared with previous years.
Between 2006 and 2016, the number of suicides by people in contact with mental health services in the UK increased from 1,453 to 1,611 (an 11% increase). The highest number of patient suicides occurred in 2012, but fell in 2014 and has fluctuated since then.
Rates of patient suicide, where the rising number of people receiving mental health care is taken into account, show a different pattern. Although rates pre- and post- 2011 are not comparable because of changes in the Mental Health Services Data Set methodology, patient suicide rates fell in both time periods.
The rate of suicide in mental health service users is over twice as high in men compared to women. Between 2006 and 2017, the total patient suicide rate decreased from 98 per 100,000 mental health service users to a projected 48 per 100,000 service users.
Decreases in the rate of patient suicide may not indicate improved quality of care. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate decreased from 70 to 52 per 100,000 service users. The number of suicides by people in contact with mental health services in the previous 12 months remained roughly constant, however the number of mental health service users increased from 1,828,428 in 2015 to 2,434,913 in 2016. Therefore, decreasing rates of patient suicide may reflect increasing use of mental health services.
Note that data in the most recent years are projected because the figures are incomplete; please see ‘About this data’ for more information.
About this data
The National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) suicide rates differ from Office for National Statistics (ONS) rates because they base their figures on date of death rather than the date when the death was registered. In addition, the figures include people aged 10-14 and are not age-standardised, i.e. they are not adjusted to reflect differences in the age of the population.
Completeness of the data is lower in the more recent years reported, reflecting the time required to receive and process the data. For 2015, 2016 and 2017, the total number of patient cases was projected based on the number of unreturned NCISH questionnaires and the accuracy of the previous year’s estimates. For more information, please see the NCISH Annual Report 2019.