Is suicide contagious? A study of the relation between exposure to the suicidal behavior of others and nearly lethal suicide attempts

Am J Epidemiol. 2001 Jul 15;154(2):120-7. doi: 10.1093/aje/154.2.120.

Abstract

This study sought to determine the association between nearly lethal suicide attempts and exposure to the suicidal behavior of parents, relatives, friends, or acquaintances and to accounts of suicide in the media. The authors conducted a population-based case-control study in Houston, Texas, from November 1992 through July 1995. They interviewed 153 victims of attempted suicide aged 13--34 years who had been treated at emergency departments in Houston and a random sample of 513 control subjects. After controlling for potentially confounding variables, the authors found that exposure to the suicidal behavior of a parent (adjusted OR = 1.5; 95% CI: 0.6, 3.6; p = 0.42) or a nonparent relative (adjusted OR = 1.2; 95% CI: 0.7, 2.0; p = 0.55) was not significantly associated with nearly lethal suicide attempts. Both exposure to the suicidal behavior of a friend or acquaintance (adjusted OR = 0.6; 95% CI: 0.4, 1.0; p = 0.05) and exposure to accounts of suicidal behavior in the media (adjusted OR = 0.2; 95% CI: 0.1, 0.3; p = 0.00) were associated with a lower risk of nearly lethal suicide attempts. Exposure to accounts of suicidal behavior in the media and, to a lesser extent, exposure to the suicidal behavior of friends or acquaintances may be protective for nearly lethal suicide attempts, but further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms underlying these findings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mass Media / statistics & numerical data*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Population Surveillance
  • Psychology, Adolescent / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / prevention & control
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Texas / epidemiology
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data