Abstract / Description of output

Self-harm and suicide remain prevalent in later life. For younger adults, work has highlighted an association between higher early-life cognitive ability and lower self-harm and suicide risk. Comparatively little is known about its association with self-harm and suicide among older adults. Furthermore, most work has measured cognitive ability in early adulthood, raising issues of potential confounding by emerging psychiatric conditions. The present study examined the association between childhood (age 11) cognitive ability and self-harm and suicide risk among a Scotland-wide cohort of older adults (N = 53037), using health data linkage to follow individuals from age 34 to 85. Self-harm events were extracted from hospital admissions and suicide deaths were extracted from national mortality records. Multistate models were used to model transitions between unaffected, self-harm, and then suicide or non-suicide death, and to examine the association between childhood cognitive ability and each transition. After adjusting for childhood and adulthood socioeconomic conditions, higher childhood cognitive ability was significantly associated with reduced risk of self-harm among older females (N events = 516; HR = 0.90, 95% CI = [0.81, 0.99]). A similar, though non-significant, association was observed among older males (N events = 451; HR = 0.90, 95% CI = [0.82, 1.00]). Although suicide risk was higher among older adults experiencing self-harm, childhood cognitive ability was not significantly associated with suicide risk among either older adults experiencing no self-harm events (Male: N events = 118, HR = 1.17, 95% CI = [0.84, 1.63]; Female: N events = 31, HR = 1.30, 95% CI = [0.70, 2.41]) or those experiencing a self-harm event during follow-up (Male: N events = 16, HR = 1.05, 95% CI = [0.61, 1.80]; Female: N events = 13, HR = 1.08, 95% CI = [0.55, 2.14]). Higher suicide risk was significantly associated with covariates including higher adulthood deprivation and longer time in the self-harm state. These results extend work on cognitive ability and mental health, demonstrating that these associations can span across the life course and into older age.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2023


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