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Ethnic density and deliberate self harm; a small area study in south east London


STUDY OBJECTIVE Relative risks are frequently used to convey how strongly outcomes like mental illness and suicidal behaviour are associated with personal characteristics like ethnic background. This study examined whether RRs for deliberate self harm (DSH) in ethnic groups vary between small areas according to their ethnic mix.

DESIGN Small area study of DSH rates in ethnic groups, by local ethnic density, using negative binomial regression.

SETTING 73 south London electoral wards, 1994–1997.

SUBJECTS 1643 people attending casualty after DSH.

MAIN RESULTS African-Caribbean and Asian DSH rates, relative to the white population, varied between wards. A linear model indicated a decline by factors (relative rate ratios) 0.76 (95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.64 to 0.90) and 0.59 (95% CI 0.36 to 0.97) respectively per SD increase in the local size of these minority populations. However, for both groups, an inverted U shaped curve provided a better fit for the link between the relative DSH rate in these groups and their local population density.

CONCLUSIONS The DSH rate of minority groups relative to the white group is low (suggesting protection) in some areas, and high (suggesting risk) elsewhere. This has implications for management of suicidal behaviour in ethnic groups but also for interpretation, and policy implementation, of research on risk for suicidal behaviour, and, probably, many other outcomes. Relative risks or rates are not stable indicators of association in psychiatric epidemiology.

  • deliberate self harm
  • ethnic density

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  • Funding: this study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.