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New national medical screening database helps us conduct research on Death by Suicide

Åsa Westrin. Photo
Professor Åsa Westrin

Professor Åsa Westrin manages a big national medical screening database to conduct research on Death by Suicide in the Swedish population. The database helps her extract research data on the contacts and relationships between healthcare and patients who have died by suicide to map healthcare utilization and improve future preventative treatments for suicidal patients.

Åsa is a professor of psychiatry at the Faculty of Medicine, Unit for clinical suicide research, at Lund University, and senior consultant in psychiatry at Region Skåne. SRA EpiHealth is interested in knowing more about the database that she is using, what kind of data she is collecting from it, how it is used in her research, and how it can benefit SRA EpiHealth. 

Åsa explains, - I initiated the construction of the database and Lund university collaborates with Gothenburg University, Jönköping University, Karolinska Institutet, Malmö University and Örebro University in this project.  Data was retrieved from the National Cause of Death Register and merged with data from medical records from all Swedish regions. At the moment, the database covers all regions in Sweden except Stockholm, but Stockholm will be included March 2022.

We ask Åsa to explain to the reader how they ensure the protection of personal data. Åsa continues, - We have made sure to have the necessary security measures in place to protect the personal data that we hold. When we process data, it is done lawfully, fairly, and in a transparent manner in relation to individuals and we make sure to adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

During the interview we discuss how the data can be used in the research. Åsa explains, - The method that we use is a retrospective explorative study based on data from individuals who died by suicide 2015. We use descriptive statistics to outline the distribution of health care utilization stratified by age groups (≤24, 25–44, 45–64, ≥65) and sex. To give some examples, this allows us to process data on any type of health care contact the individuals had before they died by suicide such as their contact with psychiatric services, their contact with primary health care or specialized somatic health care.

We continue the interview by discussing suicide rates. About 1200 individuals die by confirmed suicide each year in Sweden and suicide rates are higher in middle aged people (45-64) than in other age groups. Although suicide rates have been decreasing since the 1980s, it is important to map health care utilization among all individuals who have died by suicide in order to understand the multifactorial aspects behind attempted and successful suicides. This will help us improve future preventative treatments. Once we gain a greater understanding of these multifactorial aspects, other areas of research can benefit from this, such as the SRA EpiHealth, explains Åsa.