Review of deaths leads to decrease in recorded suicides in Northern Ireland
A review into 467 undetermined deaths has led to a major downward revision in suicide statistics recorded in Northern Ireland.
Previous figures had indicated that Northern Ireland had the highest suicide rate in the UK, but following the review carried out by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra), in conjunction with the Coroner’s Service for Northern Ireland (CSNI), the north now has a lower statistical rate of suicides than Scotland.
The most recent figures show that there were 219 suicides registered in Northern Ireland in 2020.
The review was initiated following a notable fall in suicide numbers among registrations in 2019. This was attributed to increased quality checks of source data compared with previous years.
A number of cases between 2015 and 2018 had been coded as deaths of undetermined intent and therefore fell within the official definition of suicide as opposed to accidental, which are outside the definition.
The review involved revisiting the individual cases where the cause of death was drug related and the intent had been coded as undetermined. In the process of reviewing these cases it became apparent that other deaths of undetermined intent should also be reviewed so the work was expanded to include deaths registered in 2020.
The main outcome of the review is that the majority of cases previously coded as undetermined intent have been reviewed by a coroner and deemed accidental and recoded as such, which excludes them from the official suicide definition.
Out of the 467 cases reviewed, 84% moved into accidental cause of death categories which fall outside the suicide definition, thus resulting in a downward revision of the number of suicide deaths in Northern Ireland between 2015 and 2020.
The extent of the downward revision in the number of suicide deaths from previously published figures is almost 30% in each of the years 2015-2017, 23% in 2018 and 17% in 2020.
Northern Ireland has moved from having the highest rate in the UK based on previously published figures to having a lower rate than Scotland in the last few years following the review.
For the latest year, 2020, the Northern Ireland rate is is 13.3 deaths per 100,000 compared with 15 for Scotland and 10 for England and Wales.
The updated findings for 2020 show that there were 219 suicides registered in Northern Ireland in 2020, an increase of 14 since 2019, but a fall of 17 on the 2018 figure.
It also revealed that the Belfast Trust area had the highest suicide rate at 18.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2020, followed by Southern Trust (14.2 deaths per 100,000). The Northern Trust area had the lowest suicide rate in 2020 at 9.4 deaths per 100,000.
Northern Ireland’s most deprived areas had a suicide rate that was almost twice that of the least deprived areas in 2020 (19.7 deaths per 100,000 in the most deprived areas compared to 10.8 per 100,000 in the least deprived).
The review has not led to any change to the coroner’s findings shared with family members in cases, or to the cause of death as recorded on the death certificate.
The official UK definition of suicide encompasses deaths due to external causes relating to intentional self-harm and of undetermined intent. It does not include deaths where the outcome was deemed accidental.