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Non-fatal suicidal behaviour at the Johannesburg General Hospital

Yusuf Moosa
Yasmien Jeenah
Anersha Pillay
Merryll Vorster
Rykie Liebenberg


Objective: Non-fatal suicidal behaviour (NFSB) severely impacts on the health services and the resources of a country and should be prevented. The aim of this control study was to describe a group of patients with NFSB and to elicit, if any, the factors associated with this behaviour compared to a non-suicidal control group.

Method: Interviews were conducted on patients with NFSB treated in the Johannesburg Hospital medical emergency rooms. The information was gathered by way of a questionnaire and included: patient demographics, past history of psychiatric and medical illness, family history, habits and social adjustment.

Results: The study sample comprised forty-three patients with NFSB (mean age = 29.7 years) and control group of forty-five non-suicide attempters (mean age = 30.9 years). 26 (60.5%) of the patients and 33 (73.3%) of the controls were females. 10 (23.3%) of the patients had been treated for NFSB within the preceding 12 months. Patients with a past history of a psychiatric illness or of physical or sexual abuse were significantly more likely to exhibit NFSB compared to the control group (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Patients who threaten deliberate self-harm and who have a history of previous NFSB, past psychiatric illness and physical or sexual abuse, are at a higher risk of this behaviour as compared to the general population. If NFSB intentions are suspected in or voiced by an individual, then these risk factors should be assessed and appropriate preventative measures instituted.

Key words: Non-fatal suicidal behaviour, Non-suicide attempters, Past psychiatric history, Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Self-harm

South African Psychiatry Review Vol. 8 (3) 2005: 104-107

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eISSN: 1994-8220