Suicidal thoughts, but not suicide, more common among women
Nov 2, 2004 - 3:13:38 PM

One in 38 women and one in 50 men in Britain develop suicidal thoughts each year. But less then one 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 Office of National Statistics and the University of Bristol.
Surprisingly, whilst more men commit suicide than women, suicidal thoughts are more common in women. The authors comment that possible reasons for the sex-differences in the incidence of suicidal thoughts and suicide may be the differing patterns of help-seeking in men and women or use of more lethal methods by men.

Until now, the evidence of suicidal thoughts in the British population was unknown. This study is thought to be the largest prospective investigation of the incidence of suicidal thoughts worldwide. 8,580 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.

Suicidal thoughts are more frequent in those aged 16 - 24 (although suicide rates are lowest in this age group). 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. People who are not married, cohabitating 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 also have more frequent thoughts of suicide.

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 complete suicide, and should inform suicide prevention strategies.

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