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Recent cohort effects in suicide in Scotland: a legacy of the 1980s?
  1. Jane Parkinson1,
  2. Jon Minton2,
  3. James Lewsey3,
  4. Janet Bouttell3,
  5. Gerry McCartney1
  1. 1Public Health Observatory, NHS Health Scotland, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Urban Studies, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Health Economics and Health Technology Assessment, Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jane Parkinson, Public Health Observatory, NHS Health Scotland, Meridian Court, 5 Cadogan Street, Glasgow G2 6QE, UK; jane.parkinson{at}


Background Mortality rates are higher in Scotland relative to England and Wales, even after accounting for deprivation. This ‘excess’ mortality is partly due to higher mortality from alcohol-related and drug-related deaths, violence and suicide (particularly in young adults). This study investigated whether cohort effects from exposure to neoliberal politics from the 1980s might explain the recent trends in suicide in Scotland.

Methods We analysed suicide deaths data from 1974 to 2013 by sex and deprivation using shaded contour plots and intrinsic estimator regression modelling to identify and quantify relative age, period and cohort effects.

Results Suicide was most common in young adults (aged around 25–40 years) living in deprived areas, with a younger peak in men. The peak age for suicide fell around 1990, especially for men for whom it dropped quickly from around 50 to 30 years. There was evidence of an increased risk of suicide for the cohort born between 1960 and 1980, especially among men living in the most deprived areas (of around 30%). The cohort at highest risk occurred earlier in the most deprived areas, 1965–1969 compared with 1970–1974.

Conclusions The risk of suicide increased in Scotland for those born between 1960 and 1980, especially for men living in the most deprived areas, which resulted in a rise in age-standardised rates for suicide among young adults during the 1990s. This is consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to neoliberal politics created a delayed negative health impact.

  • Health inequalities

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors GM generated the initial idea for the study. Analyses of data were led by JP with JM, JL and JB provided statistical advice for the IE analyses. JP drafted the manuscript. All authors provided critical input into the redrafting of the manuscript and approved the final draft.

  • Funding JM is funded by the ESRC (Code: ES/K006460/1).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Data sharing statement The authors have provided additional data in the appendices. The data used for this study are owned by the NRS and can be obtained by researchers from them on request.

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