Suicide risk among refugees compared with non-refugee migrants and the Swedish-born majority population

Br J Psychiatry. 2020 Dec;217(6):686-692. doi: 10.1192/bjp.2019.220.


Background: It has been hypothesised that refugees have an increased risk of suicide.

Aims: To investigate whether risk of suicide is higher among refugees compared with non-refugee migrants from the same areas of origin and with the Swedish-born population, and to examine whether suicide rates among migrants converge to the Swedish-born population over time.

Method: A population-based cohort design using linked national registers to follow 1 457 898 people born between 1 January 1970 and 31 December 1984, classified by migrant status as refugees, non-refugee migrants or Swedish-born. Participants were followed from their 16th birthday or date of arrival in Sweden until death, emigration or 31 December 2015, whichever came first. Cox regression models estimated adjusted hazard ratios for suicide by migrant status, controlling for age, gender, region of origin and income.

Results: There were no significant differences in suicide risk between refugee and non-refugee migrants (hazard ratio 1.28, 95% CI 0.93-1.76) and both groups had a lower risk of suicide than Swedish born. During their first 5 years in Sweden no migrants died by suicide; however, after 21-31 years their suicide risk was equivalent to the Swedish-born population (hazard ratio 0.94, 95% CI 0.79-1.22). After adjustment for income this risk was significantly lower for migrants than the Swedish-born population.

Conclusions: Being a refugee was not an additional risk factor for suicide. Our findings regarding temporal changes in suicide risk suggest that acculturation and socioeconomic deprivation may account for a convergence of suicide risk between migrants and the host population over time.

Declaration of interest: None.

Keywords: Suicide; epidemiology; mortality; social deprivation; transcultural psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Refugees*
  • Suicide*
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Transients and Migrants*