Is suicide contagious? New study suggests imitative suicide occurs among mentally ill
Jul 25, 2004 - 10:59:38 PM

A new study has provided indirect evidence that imitative suicide occurs among mentally ill populations, and may account for 10% of suicides by current and recent patients.

Most previous investigations of imitative suicide have reported clustering in the general population. This may be clustering at a given time, following suicides publicised in the media, or may be in a given space, geographically localised.

Few studies, however, have investigated imitative suicide by looking for space-time clustering over a wide geographical area, or have investigated imitative suicide in mentally ill populations.

The researchers in this study analysed a national case register of suicides who had had recent contact with mental health services. This information was collected by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness.

Highly significant space-time and space-time-method (of suicide) clustering was found in a sample of 2741 suicides over four years who had had recent contact with one of 105 mental health trusts.

For example, four mentally ill patients being looked after by a catchment area mental health team committed suicide by jumping from heights over a six-week period (a relatively uncommon method) compared with an average rate for that team over seven years, and for other teams in the locality, of about one suicide per year (all methods).

The authors of the study comment that if imitation is a causal factor in a significant percentage of suicides, it will be important to consider how best to reduce its impact as part of a drive to cut the national suicide rate among the mentally ill.

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