Adults reporting suicidal thoughts, attempts and self harm

Published

Contents
  1. 1. Main facts and figures
  2. 2. By ethnicity
  3. 3. Methodology
  4. 4. Data sources
  5. 5. Download the data

1. Main facts and figures

  • in 2014, a higher percentage of White British people than Asian people said they had had suicidal thoughts at some point in their life
  • White British women were more likely to have self-harmed at some point in their lives than women from the Asian, Other White, and Black groups
  • there were no other meaningful differences in the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide or self-harm
Things you need to know

The survey covers people aged 16 or over who live in private households. It doesn’t include those who live in institutional settings or in temporary housing (such as hostels or bed and breakfasts) or those who sleep rough. People living in such settings are likely to have worse mental health than those living in private households. There were 7,546 respondents to the survey.

It is unlikely that everyone who had suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide or self-harmed responded accurately when surveyed. This may be because of social stigma that some attach to these, or other concerns they may have had when giving an answer. Respondents were more likely to report these behaviours in the self-completion section of the survey than they were when interviewed. Not all participants completed the self-completion section of the survey, however.

These statistics have been age-standardised so comparisons can be made between ethnic groups as if they had the same age profile (an age profile shows the number of people of different ages within an ethnic group). They do not tell you the actual percentage of people in each ethnic group who experienced suicidal thoughts or self harm.

Keep in mind when making comparisons between ethnic groups that all survey estimates are subject to a degree of uncertainty as they are based on a sample of the population. The degree of uncertainty is greater when the number of respondents is small, so it will be highest for minority ethnic groups.

The ethnic groupings used here are broad; there is no breakdown of data for the more specific ethnic groups each contains. Some of the specific ethnic groups have very different experiences to one another. For example, the Black/Black British group could include both recent migrants from Somalia and Black people born in Britain to British parents.

What the data measures

This data measures the percentage of people aged 16 and over in England who reported having had suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide or self-harmed at some point in their life. The data source is the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) that was conducted in private households across England in 2014.

Suicidal thoughts, attempts at suicide and self-harm were assessed using the following questions:

  • have you ever thought of taking your life, even though you would not actually do it?
  • have you ever made an attempt to take your life, by taking an overdose of tablets or in some other way?
  • have you ever deliberately harmed yourself in any way but not with the intention of killing yourself?

Each question answered ‘yes’ was followed up with a question on whether this last occurred in the past week, the past year, or longer ago.

The ethnic categories used in this data

For this data, the number of people surveyed (the ‘sample size’) was too small to draw any firm conclusions about specific ethnic categories. Therefore, the data is broken down into the following broad groups, based on the ONS harmonised ethnic group questions for use on national surveys:

  • Asian/Asian British
  • Black/Black British
  • Mixed/Multiple and Other
  • White British
  • Other White

2. By ethnicity

Percentage of people aged 16 years and over who had suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide or self harmed, by ethnicity
Ethnicity Suicidal thoughts Suicide attempts Self-harm
Asian 13.1 5.3 5.5
Black 20.7 6.1 4.8
Mixed/Other 17.9 5.7 4.2
White - British 21.6 6.9 8.1
White - Other 20.8 6.1 6.1

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

  • a significantly higher percentage of White British people (21.6%) reported having had suicidal thoughts at some point in their life, compared with the 13.1% of Asian people who did

  • White British women were more likely to have ever self-harmed than women from the Asian, White other, and Black groups

  • there were no other meaningful differences observed between other groups in terms of having had suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide or self-harmed at some point in their life (other observed differences aren’t reliable, most likely because of the small sample sizes involved)

3. Methodology

Interviewers for the APMS asked questions using the Clinical Interview Schedule - Revised (CIS-R).

Each survey involved interviewing a large stratified probability sample of the general population, covering people living in private households. The full adult age range was covered, with the youngest participants aged 16 and the oldest over 100.

The two-phase survey design involved an initial interview with the whole sample, followed by a structured assessment carried out by clinically trained interviewers with a subset of participants. People were assessed or screened for a range of different types of mental disorder, from common conditions like depression and anxiety disorder through to less common neurological and mental conditions such as psychotic disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The use of a survey to diagnose mental health conditions is not as reliable as a diagnosis made using a clinical interview. The assessments used have been validated, however, and are among the best available.

The resulting statistics for lifetime suicidal thoughts and self-harm have been age-standardised. This is because the prevalence of these measures is related to age, and the age profile (the number of people of different ages within an ethnic group) can differ considerably between ethnic groups. This adjustment allows comparisons to be made between ethnic groups as if they had the same age profile.

The survey covers people who live in private households. It doesn’t include those who live in institutional settings (such as hospitals or prisons) or in temporary housing (such as hostels or bed and breakfasts) or those who sleep rough. People living in such settings are likely to have worse mental health than those living in private households (Gill et al. 1996; cited in APMS 2014).

Where a selected participant could not take part in a long interview due to a physical or mental health condition, some information about this was recorded by the interviewer on the doorstep. This information may be biased, as in some cases it may have been collected from another household member.

Socially undesirable or stigmatised feelings and behaviours may be underreported. While this is a risk for any study based on self-report data, the study goes some way to minimising this by collecting particularly sensitive information in a self-completion format.

There were 7,546 respondents to the survey. Some people selected for the survey could not be contacted or refused to take part. The achieved response rate (57%) is in line with that of similar surveys (Barnes et al. 2010; cited in APMS 2014). Weighting helps take account of those who were selected for the survey but didn’t take part.

Weighting is used to adjust the results of a survey to make them representative of the population and improve their accuracy. For example, a survey which contains 25% women and 75% men will not accurately reflect the views of the general population which we know is around 50% men and 50% women.

More detailed information on the weighting used here can be found on page 24 of the Methods chapter of the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014 (PDF).

Confidence intervals

The confidence intervals for each ethnic group are available in the ‘download the data’ section and also available from the CSV downloads for ‘Percentage estimate of adults who have experienced: self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts over their lifetime, by sex and broad ethnic group, 2014’.

Of the White British women surveyed, 8.5% experienced a suicide attempt in their lifetime. This is a reliable estimate of the percentage of White British women in England who experienced a suicide attempt in their lifetime. However, because the APMS results are based on a random sample of adults aged 16 or older, it is impossible to be 100% certain of the true percentage.

It is 95% certain, however, that somewhere between 7.5% and 9.6% of all White British women in England experienced a suicide attempt in their lifetime. In statistical terms, this is a 95% confidence interval. This means that if 100 random samples were taken, then 95 times out of 100 the estimate would fall in this range (that is, between the upper and lower confidence interval). But 5 times out of 100 it would fall outside this range.

The smaller the survey sample, the more uncertain the estimate and the wider the confidence interval. For example, fewer women from the Black/Black British ethnic group were sampled for this survey than British White women, so we can be less certain about the estimate for the smaller group. This greater uncertainty is expressed by the wider confidence interval of between 1.8% and 8.2%.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Risk to disclosure has been accounted for with limitations of the level of disaggregation, size of category groupings, and the maintaining of large underlying populations for analysis. No further suppression or other disclosure control has been applied.

Rounding

Percentages have been rounded to one decimal point.

Quality and methodology information

Further technical information

APMS 2014 Background Data Quality Statement (PDF)

4. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

National Statistics

Publisher

NHS Digital

Publication frequency

Every 7 years (further publications dependent on further surveys being commissioned)

Purpose of data source

The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) series provides England's National Statistics for the prevalence of mental illness and treatment access in the adult household population.

5. Download the data

APMS_suicidal_thoughts_attempts_and_self_harm - Spreadsheet (csv) 7 KB

The percentage estimates of adults who have experienced: self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts over their lifetime, by sex and broad ethnic group in England 2014 based on results from the APMS. The estimates are provided with 95% confidence intervals.