The purpose of this study was to characterize healthcare use for general care and mental health one year before suicidal behavior among individuals with fatal and non-fatal suicidal behavior (NFSB) in Cape Town, South Africa. We linked electronic health records of 484 participants from a case series of 93 completed suicides on whom forensic autopsies were performed at a mortuary in Cape Town, between August 2014 and January 2016; and 391 patients admitted to hospital following NFSB between June 2014 and March 2015, and between August 2015 and August 2017. Time from last healthcare visit to date of suicidal behavior (fatal or non-fatal) was calculated, and Kaplan Meier curves were used to compare the differences by psychiatric diagnoses and study group. Overall, 64.5% of completed suicides and 65.9% of NFSB patients sought general healthcare in the year before suicidal behavior. Most of these visits occurred at hospital outpatient clinics (40.8%) and primary healthcare facilities (31.3%). The prevalence of preexisting psychiatric diagnoses and the use of mental healthcare services was lower for individuals who completed suicide compared to NFSB patients. Common reasons for a healthcare visit among individuals who completed suicide were chronic disease and assault; and psychiatric illness (depression, bipolar, and/or substance use disorders), chronic disease and HIV among NFSB patients. A large proportion of individuals with fatal and NFSB interacted with the healthcare system before suicidal behavior. These findings suggest opportunities for suicide prevention at primary healthcare facilities, antiretroviral treatment centers and emergency departments.
HIGHLIGHTS: Healthcare access is common among individuals with fatal and NFSB in the year before suicidal behavior. The prevalence of mental disorder diagnoses is higher among NFSB patients than among individuals who completed suicide. A greater proportion of NFSB patients accessed mental healthcare services compared to individuals who completed suicide.