Public Stigma Toward Persons with Suicidal Thoughts-Do Age, Sex, and Medical Condition of Affected Persons Matter?

Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2020 Jun;50(3):631-642. doi: 10.1111/sltb.12629. Epub 2020 Mar 2.


Objective: Suicidal persons often face public stigmatization which affects help-seeking behavior and may lead to an additional suicide risk. There is not much known about differences in stigmatizing attitudes concerning characteristics of affected persons. The present study investigates public stigma toward suicidal persons in Germany by focussing on differences concerning sex, age, and medical condition of the affected person.

Method: A national telephone survey (N = 2,002) was conducted using case vignettes presenting a person with suicidal thoughts. Vignettes systematically varied in sex, age, and medical condition (depressive symptoms vs. cancer). Several components of stigma were assessed ("weakness of will" as a cause, separation, negative emotional reactions, and desire for social distance).

Results: About 44% of the respondents agreed that a cause of suicidal thoughts is "weakness of will," and two thirds disagreed that they would feel and think the same as the described person. In terms of emotional reactions, fear was more pronounced than anger. Stigmatizing attitudes were particularly pronounced when the described person was female and depressive symptoms were presented.

Conclusions: Magnitude of public suicide stigma varies depending on the characteristics of the described person. Groups that are at special risk of being stigmatized should be considered in antistigma programs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Social Stigma
  • Stereotyping
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide*