Contact with mental health services after medically verified self-harm: A prospective data linkage study

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Jesse Young
Rohan Borschmann
Stuart Kinner


High rates of self-harm resulting in acute health service contact have been observed in adults released from prison. Contact with health services due to self-harm is a key intervention opportunity to prevent deleterious health outcomes. Little is known about subsequent mental health service contact after discharge from acute health services.

Objectives and Approach
We aimed to describe mental health service contact after discharge from acute health service contacts following self-harm in a representative sample of adults released from prison. Ambulance, emergency department (ED), hospital inpatient and ambulatory mental health service records were probabilistically linked to pre-release interview data. Self-harm events after release were identified from ICD codes and coded from case notes in ambulance, ED, and hospital records. We calculated the time between discharge from ambulance, ED, or hospital after self-harm and subsequent contact with mental health services. Factors predicting the likelihood of mental health service contact were examined using multivariate logistic regression.

Of 1307 adults released from prison, 108 (8.3%) experienced 218 self-harm events resulting in acute health service use in the community. Of these presentations, 0%, 59%, and 50% of discharges from ambulance attendances, ED and hospital, respectively, had subsequent contact with a specialist mental health service within 7 days of that acute service contact. Mental health service contact within 7 days of acute service contact was positively associated with being female (adjusted odds ratio [AOR]: 3.27; 95%CI: 1.26-8.47) and being identified by prison staff as at risk for self-harm (AOR: 3.34; 95%CI: 1.29-8.62), and was negatively associated with dual diagnosis (AOR: 0.19: 95%CI: 0.06-0.61), substance use disorder only (AOR: 0.13; 95%CI: 0.04-0.48) and physical health functioning (AOR: 0.96; 95\%CI: 0.92-0.99).

Almost half of adults with a recent history of incarceration discharged from acute health service after self-harm did not receive timely specialist mental health care. Improved integration of acute health services and ambulatory mental health services could improve outcomes for adults who present with self-harm.


Prior and repeated self-harm hospitalisations are common risk factors for suicide. However, few studies have accounted for pre-existing comorbidities and prior hospital use when quantifying the burden of self-harm.

Objectives and Approach

To quantify hospitalisation in the 12 months preceding and re-hospitalisation and mortality risk in the 12 months post a self-harm hospitalisation. A population-based matched cohort study of individuals \(\geq\)18 years using linked hospitalisation and mortality records from four Australian states. Self-harm was identified using a principal diagnosis of injury (S00-T75 or T79) and an external cause of self-harm (X60-X84). The index self-harm hospitalisation was identified and 12-month pre- and post-index injury health service use was examined. The non-injured comparison cohort was randomly selected from the electoral roll and was matched 1:1 on age, gender, and postcode of residence. Comorbidities were identified using diagnosis classifications with a 1-year lookback. Negative binomial regression was used to quantify associations between self-harm and counts of hospital admissions 12-months post the index hospitalisation using rate ratios and 95%CIs.


There were 11,597 individuals with a self-harm hospitalisation in New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland or Tasmania with a matched comparison. Mean age was 38.6 years (SD=14.9) and 57.6% were female. The self-harm cohort had a higher proportion of Charlson comorbidities, mental health diagnoses, alcohol misuse and drug-related dependence than their matched counterparts. The self-harm cohort experienced a higher proportion of health service use in the 12-months preceding (20.5% vs 10.1%) and post (21.2% vs 10.6%) the index admission and a higher mortality rate (2.9% vs 0.3%) than their matched counterparts. The adjusted rate ratios (ARR) for hospital readmission were highest for females (ARR: 2.86; 95% CI: 2.33-3.52) and individuals aged 55-64 years (ARR: 3.96; 95%CI: 2.79-5.64).


Improved hospitalisation burden quantification for self-harm can inform resource allocation for intervention and after care services for individuals at-risk of repeated self-harm. Better assessment of at-risk self-harm behaviour, appropriate referrals and improved post-discharge care, focusing on care continuity is needed.

Article Details

How to Cite
Young, J., Borschmann, R. and Kinner, S. (2018) “Contact with mental health services after medically verified self-harm: A prospective data linkage study”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 3(4). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v3i4.596.

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