One in 38 women and 1 in 50 men in Britain develop suicidal thoughts in a year, but less than 1 in 200 of these people kill themselves, according to new work published in the November issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry. The research was carried out by the University of Bristol and the Office for National Statistics.
This study is thought to be the largest investigation of the incidence of suicidal thoughts worldwide. More than 8,500 adults aged 16 –74 were interviewed in the second national ‘Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity’ of adults living in private households in Britain. This study was an 18-month follow-up survey of 2,404 members of the sample.
Professor David Gunnell at Bristol University said: ‘Until now, the incidence of suicidal thoughts in the British population was unknown. Surprisingly, whilst more men commit suicide than women, suicidal thoughts are more common in women. One reason for the differences in the incidence of suicidal thoughts and suicide may be differing patterns of help-seeking, in men and women.’
Suicidal thoughts are more frequent in those aged 16 – 24 (although suicide rates are lowest in this age group); people who are not married, cohabiting or who are widowed; people with low levels of social support or who have experienced several stressful life events; those from poor socio-economic backgrounds; and the unemployed. The different age patterns of suicide and suicidal thoughts may be because suicidal thoughts, and consequent impulsive actions, are an indicator of the rapid mood swings and changes in life circumstances that surround the move from childhood to young adulthood.
Over half of those with suicidal thoughts at baseline had recovered by the 18-month follow-up interview.
Further study into explanations for the differences in the epidemiology of suicidal thoughts and suicide is crucial to understanding the pathways – both protective and precipitating – linking suicidal thoughts to completed suicide, and should help inform suicide prevention strategies.
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