Prevalence of exposure to suicide: A meta-analysis of population-based studies

J Psychiatr Res. 2017 May;88:113-120. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2017.01.017. Epub 2017 Feb 3.


Those exposed to suicide are at increased risk of adverse outcomes including mental illness, impaired social functioning, and fatal and non-fatal suicidal behavior. However, it is unclear how many people are exposed to suicide in the general community. This first meta-analysis of population-based studies aimed to provide pooled estimates of past-year and lifetime prevalence of exposure to suicide among family, friends/peers, and all relationships. In addition, the study examined prevalence of exposure to suicide by age group: adolescents and adults. Systematic searches of the literature in Embase, Medline and PsycINFO identified eighteen studies that were included in the analysis. Pooled past-year prevalence was 4.31% (CI: 2.50 to 6.58) and life-time prevalence 21.83% (CI: 16.32 to 27.90). Both past-year and lifetime prevalences of exposure to suicide among friends and peers were significantly higher than the prevalence of exposure within families; there were no differences in the prevalence of exposure to suicide between adolescents and adults. Heterogeneity was highly significant. Future research should be conducted with large national representative samples and use standardised assessment instruments. Given the increased risks of adverse outcomes among those exposed to suicide, the high rate of exposure to suicide reported here has important ramifications for public health and mental health service delivery.

Keywords: Bereavement; Exposure; Grief; Meta-analysis; Suicide.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Community Health Planning
  • Databases, Bibliographic / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*