Learning of suicide by a friend or loved one is an unsettling event. Now, a new study by British researchers has found that this knowledge increases your own risk of suicide. The situation is known as bereavement by suicide. The findings were published January 26 in the journal BMJ Open.
The study authors note that US and UK suicide prevention strategies have suggested that bereavement by the suicide of a relative or friend is a risk factor for suicide. However, evidence is not available that the risk exceeds that of any sudden bereavement, is specific to suicide, or applies to peer suicide. Therefore, they conducted a study in the United Kingdom to test the theory that young adults bereaved by suicide have an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempt compared to young adults bereaved by other sudden deaths.
The study group comprised 3,432 individuals aged 18 to 40 years who were exposed to sudden bereavement of a friend or relative after the age of 10. The participants were staff and students at 37 UK higher educational institutions in 2010. The subjects suffered bereavement by suicide (614 subjects), by sudden unnatural causes (712 subjects) and by sudden natural causes (2106 subjects).
The adults found that adults bereaved by suicide had a higher likelihood of attempting suicide (65% increased risk) than those bereaved by sudden natural causes. There was no such increased risk in adults bereaved by sudden unnatural causes. There were no group differences in the likelihood of suicidal ideation. The effect of suicide bereavement was similar whether or not bereaved participants were blood-related to the deceased. The significant association between bereavement by suicide and suicide attempt became non-significant when adding perceived humiliation. When compared to adults bereaved by sudden unnatural causes, those bereaved by suicide did not show significant differences in suicide attempt.
The authors concluded that bereavement by suicide is a specific risk factor for suicide attempt among young bereaved adults, whether or not they are related to the deceased. They recommended that suicide risk assessment of young adults should involve screening for a history of suicide in blood relatives, non-blood relatives, and friends.
The study authors are affiliated with: Division of Psychiatry, University College London, London, UK; Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, St Pancras Hospital, London, UK; and Institute of Neurology, University College London, London, UK.