Recent cohort effects in suicide in Scotland: a legacy of the 1980s?

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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