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Mortality after discharge from long-term psychiatric care in Scotland, 1977 – 94: a retrospective cohort study

Cameron Stark12*, Margaret MacLeod3, David Hall4, Fiona O'Brien3 and Anthony Pelosi5

Author Affiliations

1 Highlands and Islands Health Research Institute, University of Aberdeen, The Green House, Beechwood Business Park North, Inverness, IV2 3ED, Scotland, UK

2 Highland NHS Board, Inverness, Scotland, UK

3 Information and Statistics Division, NHS Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

4 Dumfries and Galloway Primary Care NHS Trust, Dumfries, Scotland, UK

5 Lanarkshire Primary Care NHS Trust, Coatbridge, Scotland, UK

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BMC Public Health 2003, 3:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-3-30

Published: 9 September 2003



Recent United Kingdom strategies focus on preventable suicide deaths in former psychiatric in-patients, but natural causes of death, accidents and homicide may also be important. This study was intended to find the relative importance of natural and unnatural causes of death in people discharged from long-term psychiatric care in Scotland in 1977 –1994.


People discharged alive from psychiatric hospitals in Scotland in 1977 – 94 after a stay of one year or longer were identified using routine hospital records. Computer record linkage was used to link hospital discharges to subsequent death records. Mortality was described using a person-years analysis, and compared to the general population rates.


6,776 people were discharged in the time period. 1,994 people (29%) died by the end of follow-up, 732 more deaths than expected. Deaths from suicide, homicide, accident and undetermined cause were increased, but accounted for only 197 of the excess deaths. Deaths from respiratory disease were four times higher than expected, and deaths from other causes, including cardiovascular disease, were also elevated.


Suicide is an important cause of preventable mortality, but natural causes account for more excess deaths. Prevention activities should not focus only on unnatural causes of death.