Background: General population survey data are presented on the lifetime prevalence of suicide attempts as well as transition probabilities to onset of ideation, plans among ideators, and attempts among ideators either with or without a plan. Risk factors for these transitions are also studied.
Methods: Data are from part II of the National Comorbidity Survey, a nationally representative survey carried out from 1990 to 1992 in a sample of 5877 respondents aged 15 to 54 years to study prevalences and correlates of DSM-III-R disorders. Transitions are estimated using life-table analysis. Risk factors are examined using survival analysis.
Results: Of the respondents, 13.5% reported lifetime ideation, 3.9% a plan, and 4.6% an attempt. Cumulative probabilities were 34% for the transition from ideation to a plan, 72% from a plan to an attempt, and 26% from ideation to an unplanned attempt. About 90% of unplanned and 60% of planned first attempts occurred within 1 year of the onset of ideation. All significant risk factors (female, previously married, age less than 25 years, in a recent cohort, poorly educated, and having 1 or more of the DSM-III-R disorders assessed in the survey) were more strongly related to ideation than to progression from ideation to a plan or an attempt.
Conclusions: Prevention efforts should focus on planned attempts because of the rapid onset and unpredictability of unplanned attempts. More research is needed on the determinants of unplanned attempts.