Study Explores Suicide Risk Factors Across Globe
> 2/1/2008 11:48:27 AM

Although suicide is a significant cause of death throughout the world, many countries lack data on suicides within their borders. In this month's issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from Harvard University and the World Health Organization (WHO) have announced the results of the largest and most representative study of the prevalence and risk factors for suicidal behavior within numerous countries. They have found that many risk factors for suicide are similar within the 17 nations studied. In each country, subjects who were unmarried, young, female, less educated, and mentally ill were more likely to have suicidal thoughts or make a suicide attempt. While these risk factors were consistent, the researchers also identified some aspects of suicidal behaviors and risk factors that varied by country.

The study involved 84,850 adults from 17 diverse countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, America, Japan, New Zealand, China, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Ukraine, Israel, and Lebanon. Overall, 9.2% reported having had serious thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives, while 3.1% had made plans for suicide. 2.7% reported having made a suicide attempt. When looking at the countries individually, these rates varied widely. In China, 3.1% reported suicidal thoughts, while in New Zealand, this number was nearly 16%. The researchers believe that cultural differences regarding suicide could explain these differences, as people in some countries may be less likely to report suicidal thoughts. Young people, especially those between the ages of 12 and 15, were more likely to have thoughts of suicide, and the greatest risk for making a suicide attempt was during the year following the onset of suicidal thoughts.

Those with mental disorders were at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and the risk increased if multiple mental disorder were present. Interestingly, the study found that links between specific disorders and suicide differed depending on the country's wealth. In high-income countries, mood disorders, like depression, were strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, while impulse control disorders were the biggest risk factors within low-income countries. Additionally, the study found that among individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts, those who had an impulse-control disorder or substance abuse problem were more likely to make a suicide attempt. More research into how these specific disorders relate to suicide may be helpful.

This study represents an important step forward in understanding suicidal behaviors across the globe. Most studies of suicide are small and localized, and further research on large, representative samples would allow for a better understanding of the true prevalence of suicide, the risk factors involved, and the most effective preventative measures. With continued research, more countries will gain a better understanding of suicide, and they will then be able to develop more effective resources for those most in need of help.

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