Suicide in one partner significantly increases the risk of suicide in the other, finds a large study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. But there are gender differences, the research shows.
The findings are based on 475,000 Danes, comprising 9,000 suicides aged 25 to 60, their partners and children, and a comparison group.
The author used national Danish population, employment, and health registers to obtain information on causes of death, admissions to psychiatric units, marital status, family size, and socioeconomic factors.
Women whose partner had first been admitted to a psychiatric unit within the preceding two years were almost seven times as likely to commit suicide as women with partners whose mental health was good. This was almost double the risk of men in the same circumstances, who ran nearly a fourfold risk.
But men who had lost their partner to suicide were 46 times as likely to commit suicide themselves. This was around three times the risk of women bereaved by suicide.
Men might be less likely to seek support, or have untreated or undetected mental illness, suggests the author, in a bid to explain the differences between the sexes.
Being separated or divorced roughly doubled the risk of suicide, but affected both sexes to the same extent. ]
The loss of a child through suicide or other causes roughly doubled the risk of suicide in both parents, although parenthood seemed to be a protective factor in women.
An accompanying editorial contends that "assortative mating" - like seeking out like - might account for the figures.
Editorial: Suicide risk after spousal suicide or psychiatric admission: effects of assortative mating on heritable traits compared with environmental explanations J Epidemiol Community Health 2005; 59: 347-8
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