Background: This study used a case-control design to examine the association between unemployment and risk of medically serious suicide attempt.
Method: A sample of 302 individuals who made serious suicide attempts was contrasted with 1028 randomly selected community control subjects.
Results: Individuals who made serious suicide attempts reported higher rates of current unemployment (OR = 4.2) than control subjects. This association was similar for males and females. However, even before adjustment for confounding factors it was evident that exposure to unemployment made only a small contribution to suicide attempt risk. The population attributable risk for exposure to unemployment was 7.3%. After adjustment for antecedent childhood, family and educational factors the association between unemployment and risk of serious suicide attempt was reduced but remained significant (OR = 2.1), suggesting that common antecedent factors made a large contribution to risks of both unemployment and serious suicide attempt. When both antecedent family and childhood factors, and psychiatric morbidity were taken into account, unemployment was not significantly related to risks of serious suicide attempt.
Conclusion: The results of this study provide support for the contention that much of the association between unemployment and suicidal behaviour is non-causal, and reflects common or correlated factors that contribute to risks of both unemployment and suicidal behaviour. Any remaining association between unemployment and suicide attempt risk appears to arise from the correlation that exists between unemployment and psychiatric disorder.