Research Article Controlling Noncommunicable Diseases in Transitional Economies: Mental Illness in Suicide Attempters in Singapore—An Exploratory Analysis
Carol C. Choo ,1 Peter K. H. Chew,1 and Roger C. Ho2,3,4,5
1College of Healthcare Sciences, James Cook University, 387380, Singapore 2Department of Psychological Medicine, National University of Singapore, 119228, Singapore 3Centre of Excellence in Behavioral Medicine, Nguyen Tat Thanh University (NTTU), Ho Chi Minh City, 70000, Vietnam 4Faculty of Education, Huaibei Normal University, 100 Dongshan Road, Huaibei, Anhui 235000, China 5Biomedical Global Institute of Healthcare Research & Technology (BIGHEART), Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore 117599, Singapore
Correspondence should be addressed to Carol C. Choo; firstname.lastname@example.org
Received 3 July 2018; Revised 10 September 2018; Accepted 12 December 2018; Published 15 January 2019
Academic Editor: Pablo Mir
Copyright © 2019 Carol C. Choo et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Background. Mental illness is a pertinent risk factor related to suicide. However, research indicates there might be underdiagnosis of mental illness in Asian suicide attempters; this phenomenon is concerning. This study explored prediction of diagnosis of mental illness in suicide attempters in Singapore using available variables. Methods. Three years of medical records related to suicide attempters (N = 462) who were admitted to the emergency department of a large teaching hospital in Singapore were subjected to analysis. Of the sample, 25% were diagnosed with mental illness; 70.6% were females and 29.4% were males; 62.6% were Chinese, 15.4% Malays, and 16.0% Indians. Their age ranged from 12 to 86 (M = 29.37, SD = 12.89). All available variables were subjected to regression analyses. Findings. The full model was significant in predicting cases with and without diagnosis of mental illness and accurately classified 79% of suicide attempters with diagnosis of mental illness. Conclusions. The findings were discussed in regard to clinical implications in diagnosis and primary prevention.
Suicide has become a serious problem worldwide . Suicide attempts are also a serious public health problem, with significant tolls for psychiatric and other healthcare services . Multidimensional psychosocial factors were related to suicide deaths, e.g., past suicide attempts, adverse life events, substance and alcohol use, poor socioeconomic circum- stances , and family history of suicide and mental illness . An important risk factor related to suicide was mental illness, especially depression , and a lack of psychiatric resources was attributed to suicide deaths . There is empirical evidence to establish the relationship between depression and suicide [7, 8]. Suicide rates among current and former psychiatric patients were found to range from four to six times the rate of the general population , and
suicide rates remained high for many years after discharge from psychiatric admission . In addition, depression was often associated with hopelessness and sleep disturbance , which increased suicide risk . Predisposing factors to suicide during psychiatric treatment included more severe illness and a history of suicide attempts , which also predicted suicidal behavior after discharge from psychiatric inpatient admission .
A review of Western studies reported high rates of mental illness and comorbidity prior to suicide, namely, depression and alcoholism . However, the frequency of this phenomenon was comparatively less in Asian studies ; for example, 63%  to 69.5%  of suicides in China had diagnosable mental illness. The percentage of suicides linked to depression was 40% in China  and 25% in India , as compared to 88% in Western countries .
Hindawi BioMed Research International Volume 2019, Article ID 4652846, 8 pages https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4652846http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7868-5757https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/4652846
2 BioMed Research International
Similarly, a recent review showed that diagnosis of depression in suicide attempters in Asia ranged from 22% to 59.7% . It is unclear if the disparity is due to underdiagnosis of mental illness in Asian countries , possibly due to a compar- ative lack of psychological sophistication and psychosocial treatment resources and greater stigma attached to mental illness . This phenomenon is concerning as accurate diagnosis could also facilitate access to appropriate treatment . Interestingly, an ethnic inequality in diagnosis was also reported for Maori, Pacific, and Asian New Zealanders, who were more likely to be underdiagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders relative to European New Zealanders . It remained unclear what contributed to this phenomenon. Similarly, there was indication of underdiagnosis of mental illness in Singaporean suicide attempters . Singapore is a multiethnic society, with the main racial groups consisting of Chinese, Indians, and Malays, which offers a unique opportunity to study diagnosis of mental illness in a multi- ethnic sample of Asian suicide attempters. It was consistently found that Malays had lowest suicide rates, while Chinese had highest rates in suicide deaths, and Indians were overly represented in suicide attempts in Singapore [25, 26]. It would be of interest to study the diagnosis of mental illness in the multiethnic sample in Singaporean suicide attempters, as there is paucity of large-scale recent research in this area.
Over the past two decades, majority of suicide studies in Asia were conducted on suicide deaths [17, 19, 27, 28]. The current study on suicide attempts would be valuable in that it sought to enhance our understanding of relevant variables contributing to the diagnosis of mental illness in Asian suicide attempters in Singapore, with simultaneous consideration of psychosocial variables, e.g., risk and pro- tective factors and variables related to the attempt. This could assist clinicians in succinct and accurate assessment, to derive an appropriate suicide management plan to pre- vent further suicide attempts . Current international research embraces the concept of a mental illness con- tinuum and cautions against an overarching definition of mental illness without considering the different contexts in which DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) diagnoses are used . This exploratory study would add further insight into the evidence base for brief clinical assess- ment and diagnosis of mental illness in our local con- text.
As mental illness was among the strongest predictors of suicide , it is concerning that there might be under- diagnosis of mental illness in Asia . Mental illness, such as depression, is associated with an elevated risk for suicide attempt . The cultural formulation section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM , highlights con- sideration of contextual and psychosocial factors to inform diagnosis, management, and treatment of mental illness. To add to the complexity of culturally sensitive clinical assessment, it was suggested that Asian suicide attempters were more likely to self-report physical symptoms when interviewed by clinicians about their suicide attempts , which could be understood as cultural conceptualization of distress . In a busy emergency department environment
in Singapore, an efficient tool for diagnosis and assessment could enhance the provision of culturally appropriate clinical care for suicide attempters with mental illness; as mental health assessment and appropriate discharge planning are crucial components of comprehensive suicide prevention efforts . Literature had underscored the importance of a biopsychosocial model in the assessment and treatment of mental illness, e.g., depression and suicidality following stressful life events . Such a multidimensional framework could be useful in understanding assessment of mental illness in suicide attempters in Singapore . However, there remained a paucity of recent large-scale research in Singapore to examine the variables clinicians used to diagnose mental illness and assess suicide risk for suicide attempters in Singapore. Recent large-scale studies on suicide attempters in Singapore indicated that gender and ethnicity contributed to suicide risk and protective factors and suicide lethality [25, 26], and psychosocial variables added to the complex clinical profile of suicide attempters in Singapore . Considered together with our previous studies [25, 26, 29], the study of mental illness in suicide attempters in Singapore would add further insight, to inform our public mental health policies, and targeted suicide prevention strategies, especially for those at heightened risk for suicide and mental illness . Mental illness increased the risk of suicide attempt; this dimension should be considered as an important therapeutic target to substantially advance our primary prevention efforts .
The current study aimed to examine the variables that contribute to clinicians’ diagnosis of mental illness in a multi- ethnic sample of Asian suicide attempters in Singapore. Based on evidence in both Western and Asian studies, analysis would be conducted on the following variables, available as part of the Suicide Risk Assessment Form, SRAF, utilized by clinicians at the emergency department of the local hospital where this study took place. The SRAF was developed by the local hospital and utilized by clinicians for collection of clin- ically relevant variables, for assessment and diagnosis, and to devise an appropriate management plan, e.g., admission to psychiatric ward or outpatient follow up with a psychiatrist or medical social worker, or discharge. Psychometric properties were not available. Available psychosocial variables included the following risk factors: living alone , unemployment , financial problem , family history of suicide and psy- chopathology , physical illness , alcohol/drug use , and interpersonal conflict . Protective factors included presence of dependents , emotional support , willing- ness to seek help , resolution of precipitants , religion , regret of the attempt , and positive future planning .
All available variables would be entered into the logistic regression. The available variables contained multidimen- sional variables well established in both Western and Asian studies, including the above-mentioned risk and protective factors as well as features of the attempt, e.g., planning, and precautions taken to hide the attempt [45, 46]. It was hypothesized that the model containing all available variables would be significant in distinguishing suicide attempters with and without mental illness.
BioMed Research International 3
Table 1: Percentage of mental illness in suicide attempters (n=462).
Percentage Mental illness 25 (1) Depression 41 (2) Substance abuse 18 (3) Adjustment disorder 10 (4) Schizophrenia 8 (5) Borderline personality disorder 8 (6) Acute stress reaction 3 (7) Bipolar disorder 3 (8) Posttraumatic stress disorder 3 (9) Alcohol abuse 3
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Procedure. Ethics approval was obtained from the Domains-Specific Review Board of a large teaching hospital in Singapore and the Human Research Ethics Committee at James Cook University. This study was based on an archival retrospective review of deidentified hospital records of patients who were admitted for a suicide attempt from January 2004 to December 2006. Data were collected from hospital databases related to the suicide attempters who were admitted over the three-year period and this data set was the most comprehensive data set available from the hospital, as such assessment data were not collected prior to and following the stipulated period. Archival data were extracted from the Patient Psychiatric Assessment Form (PPAF). The PPAF included the Suicide Risk Assessment Form (SRAF), information about the current suicide attempt, as well as information about the suicide attempter, and risk and protective factors.
All cases of attempted suicide were assessed by clinicians in the emergency department under the supervision of a consultant psychiatrist, and the interview took approximately 20 minutes. This assessment was part of the protocol standard operating procedure for patients admitted following a medi- cally treated suicide attempt. At the time of the evaluation, the medical officer made a formal psychiatric diagnosis based on DSM criteria. After the assessment, a management plan was recommended.
The inclusion criterion for the current study was patients who were admitted to the emergency department from Jan- uary 2004 to December 2006 and were assessed by medical officers using the PPAF. There were a total of 671 cases of sui- cide attempts. Cases with missing data on key variables were removed from the data set (n = 209), resulting in a sample of 462 cases (70.6% females; 62.6% Chinese, 15.4% Malays, 16.0% Indians). Their age ranged from 12 to 86 (M = 29.37, SD = 12.89). The majority of them overdosed in the suicide attempt. Of the 462 cases, 25.1% of patients were assessed to meet DSM criteria for a formal psychiatric diagnosis at the time of evaluation. Of those diagnosed with mental illness, Table 1 shows the percentages for the respective diagno- sis.
2.2. Materials. The Suicide Risk Assessment Form (SRAF) is a 2-page questionnaire, conducted as a semistructured inter- view by clinicians. The content of the assessment form included demographic information, details of the current attempt, mental status examination, and psychiatric diagno- sis. Presence of prior planning, efforts to hide the suicide attempt, and usage of alcohol with the attempt were recorded on dichotomous scales. Risk factors were recorded on dichotomous scales and included lack of confidantes, living alone, unemployment, financial problem, mental illness or suicide in the family, alcohol or drug abuse, history of mental illness, interpersonal conflict, and poor coping. Protective factors were recorded on dichotomous scales and included presence of dependents, emotional support, willingness to seek help, resolution of precipitant, religion, regret, and positive future planning.
The percentage of suicide attempters with risk factors, pro- tective factors, and diagnosis of mental illness are presented in Table 1. In addition to risk and protective factors, features of the attempt, such as prior planning (11.0% Yes, 89.0% No), attempt to hide (30.3% Yes, 69.7% No), and place of suicide attempt (80.1% Home, 2.2% Workplace, 9.3% Public place, 2.8% Friend’s house, .6% Public building) were also included in the analysis.
Direct logistic regression was performed to assess the impact of available variables, namely, risk factors, protective factors, and features of the suicide attempt on the likelihood that suicide attempters were diagnosed with mental illness. Logistic regression was used in similar studies for a large number of predictors [25, 26] and is typically used to develop a subset of variables useful for predicting the criterion, by eliminating superfluous variables. Our sample size is sufficiently large and representative for statistical regression . The full model (see Table 2) containing all available predictors was statistically significant, 𝜒2 (23, N = 462) = 83.40, p < .001, indicating that the model was able to distinguish between attempters with and without diagnosis of mental illness. The model as a whole explained between 16.5% (Cox and Snell𝑅2) and 24.4% (Nagelkerke𝑅2) of the variance in mental illness and correctly classified 79.0% of the cases. As shown in Table 3, only six of the independent variables made a unique statistically significant contribution to the model (unemployment, mental illness or suicide in family, alcohol or drug abuse, habitual poor coping, willing to seek help, and positive future planning). The strongest predictor of mental illness was mental illness or suicide in family, with an odds ratio of 2.75. This indicated that attempters who had mental illness or suicide in family were 2.75 times more likely to have a diagnosis of mental illness than those without mental illness, controlling for all other predictors in the model. The second strongest predictor was unemployment with an odds ratio of 2.43. This indicated that attempters who were unemployed were 2.43 times more likely to have diagnosis of mental illness. The third strongest predictor was willing to seek help, with an odds ratio of 2.28. This indicated that attempters who were willing to seek help were 2.28 times
4 BioMed Research International
Table 2: Percentage of suicide attempters with risk factors, protective factors, and mental illness.
Predictors and criterion Percentage Yes No
Risk Factors (1) Lack of confidantes 36.1 63.9 (2) Living alone 10.8 89.2 (3) Unemployment 16.9 83.1 (4) Serious financial problems 15.6 84.4 (5) Serious physical illness 4.8 95.2 (6) Mental illness/suicide in family 10.8 89.2 (7) Alcohol/drug abuse 18.2 81.8 (8) Ongoing interpersonal conflict 48.9 51.1 (9) Habitual poor coping 36.6 63.4
Protective Factors (1) Has dependents 59.1 40.9 (2) Emotional support 75.5 24.5 (3) Willing to seek help 69.6 30.1 (4) Resolution of precipitant 48.3 51.7 (5) Religion 35.1 64.9 (6) Expressed regret 80.1 19.9 (7) Positive future planning 74.9 25.1
Criterion (1) Mental illness 25.1 74.9
more likely to have diagnosis of mental illness. The fourth predictor was habitual poor coping, with an odds ratio of 2.20. This indicated that attempters with poor habitual coping were 2.20 times more likely to have diagnosis of mental illness. The fifth predictor was alcohol or drug abuse, with an odds ratio of 1.84. This indicated that attempters who abused alcohol or drugs were 1.84 times more likely to have diagnosis of mental illness. The last predictor was positive future planning, with an odds ratio of .45. This indicated that attempters who had positive plans for immediate future were 45 times less likely to have diagnosis of mental illness.
This study aimed to explore prediction of diagnosis of mental illness in suicide attempters in Singapore, using available variables. T