Suicide among eminent artists

Psychol Rep. 1999 Feb;84(1):291-301. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1999.84.1.291.


To evaluate suicide risk by profession among eminent artists data from Garzanti's Encyclopedia, a broad biographical repertory, were used. Six categories in the visual and literary arts were compared: architects, painters, sculptors, writers, poets, and playwrights. Only people whose deaths occurred in the 1800s or 1900s were included since it is likely that underestimation of suicide has been lower in the more recent centuries. A total of 59 suicides were observed in a sample of 3,093 people: this corresponds to a ratio of 1.90%. Suicides were 51 among men (ratio 1.75%) and 8 among women (ratio 4.30%). The comparison by profession indicates that poets and writers exceed the mean suicide ratio of the sample. Painters and architects, conversely, have a clearly lower risk than the mean. Mean age of suicides was 44 yr. (SD = 12), with writers being slightly older (48 yr., SD = 12) than other artists. Artists who died of causes other than suicide reach a mean of 65 yr. (SD = 10). Suicide among artists seems to have a peculiar pattern, clearly different from the pattern of the general population, wherein suicide risk is higher among men and older people. Adverse financial circumstances and the stress attributed to rejection of personal products may contribute to the specific risk of suicide among artists. The link between mental disorders, such as manic-depression, which imply a higher risk of suicide, and creativeness is discussed as a contributing factor.

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Literature*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupations*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*