Background: Precise knowledge of the epidemiology of suicidality provides necessary information for designing prevention programs. The aims of the present study were to investigate the prevalence and correlates of suicidal ideas and attempts in the general population of Europe.
Methods: The European Study on the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders (ESEMED) is a cross-sectional household survey carried out in a probability representative sample of non-institutionalised adults (aged 18 years or older) of six European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain). The Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI 3.0) was administered to 21,425 individuals.
Results: Lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation was 7.8% and of suicidal attempts 1.3%. Being women, younger and divorced or widowed were associated with a higher prevalence of suicide ideation and attempts. Psychiatric diagnoses were strongly related to suicidality. Among them, major depressive episode (Rate ratio 2.9 for lifetime ideas and 4.8 for lifetime attempts), dysthymia (RR 2.0 and 1.6), GAD (RR 1.8 and 2.3 for lifetime), PTSD (RR 1.9 and 2.0) and alcohol dependence (RR 1.7 and 2.5) were the most important. Population attributable risks for lifetime suicidal attempt was 28% for major depression.
Limitations: Information about suicidal ideas and attempts was self reported, psychiatric diagnoses were made using fully structured lay interviews rather than clinician-administered interviews.
Conclusions: In spite of meaningful country variation in prevalence, risk factors for suicidality are consistent in the European countries. Population prevention programmes should focus on early diagnosis and treatment of major depression and alcohol abuse and in those individuals with recent appearance of suicidal ideas.