New Study Examines Multiple Risk Factors for Suicide

Risk factors that contribute to suicide attempts and suicide completion cover a broad range of domains. Substantial research has shown that individuals who have psychological problems are at increased risk for suicide ideation and completion. But other influences, such as interpersonal conflicts, marital status, and other conditions have not been fully explored with relation to suicide. To fill this clinical void, James C. Overholser, of Case Western Reserve University, recently led a study that compared several factors leading up to the nonsuicidal deaths of 257 individuals and suicidal deaths 148 people. Using data gathered from psychological autopsies, Overholser examined factors that are known to increase the risk of suicide, such as stressful circumstances, death of a loved one, and divorce. He also considered the marital status and psychological health of the individuals in an attempt to provide evidence that might help clinicians prevent suicide attempts in those most at risk.

The results of his study showed that those who died by suicide were more likely to be single, either through divorce, death, or separation, than those who died by nonsuicide. This finding supports existing research that shows how close, intimate relationships provide protective factors that help individuals with psychological and physical challenges. Overholser also discovered that there were more Caucasian suicide completers than nonsuicide deceased. The most significant finding revealed that completers had higher rates of psychological illness (95%) when compared to the nonsuicide group. The most common mental health issue was some form of depression, which was found in over 60% of completers.

Overholser also found that many of the suicide completers had significant life stressors, such as divorce, job loss, or poor health that could have contributed to their depression and made them more vulnerable to suicide. The completers did not have elevated levels of anxiety, which has been shown to be a risk factor for suicide attempters. The study revealed relatively low levels of anxiety issues in completers, including panic disorder, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and generalized anxiety. Overholser concluded, “Proper assessment of suicide risk should include a comprehensive evaluation of demographic characteristics, recent life stressors, and psychiatric diagnosis.”

Overholser, J. C., Braden, A., Dieter, L. Understanding suicide risk: Identification of high-risk groups during high-risk times. Journal of Clinical Psychology 68.3 (2012): 349-361.

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  • Carson smith

    Carson smith

    March 31st, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    So as with anything else it seems, there is never one single thing that will contribute to a higher likelihood for suicide attempts and completion. We always want the easy answer, the one thing that we can point to so that we can say reason a causes outcome b. But life is rarely that simple. There are always going to be a multitude of reasons why we do the things that we do and make the choices that we make. With suicide I know that that makes it even harder for families and friends to process because they are always thinking that if they had said something different or done something different then maybe the outcome would have changed, but we need to realize that in all likelihood it would not have.

  • Jenni


    April 1st, 2012 at 4:38 AM

    What about physical ailments? I don’t think that I read anything about how physical problems could increase risk of suicide.

  • cHIP


    April 2nd, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Sometimes there are people that you would have never expected to commit suicide and then you are blindsided with that kind of news. They suffer silently with their own demons that we never know about until it is too late to do anything to help. Why couldn’t they have just shared some of that pain, let us know what was going on so that someone could try to get them some help? That is why some people think suicide is so selfish, they could have had help if they would have just asked for it.

  • patricia


    April 2nd, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    One and for most, the key word here is “psychological,” mental break down/mental disabilities is a major, major factor. “(psychological illness (95%)” I also completely disagree with the study that anxiety issues like panic disorder, ptsd, and the like is not a factor, that contradicts the ‘95%’ had a psychological disorder.
    Most mentally disabled folks suffer in silence, because of discrimination, societies mislead views on the disabilities, and ancient stigma which is the leading reason why they suffer in silence. Thats why they “don’t” share their pain.

  • Oliver


    April 2nd, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Please do not forget to stress the role that family history of suicide can have on one who is struggling with this issue. We do not like to think that this is something that could ever hit a family more than once, but I find that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is indeed what occurs in a great many cases. There are simply many families who have had to deal with the loss of numerous family members as this is something that becomes pervasive in their family for any number of reasons. One would hope that families would come to see what a risk this could be and that they would be more apt to intervene if they begin to witness a family member in trouble. But too many times I find that it is shrugged off, considered that it would not, could not, happen again. And then it does and again the family is devasteted by the losses once more.

  • QwiQ 1

    QwiQ 1

    April 3rd, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    People committing suicide is just not cool..they need to know one thing-that no matter how bad things may seem to be or who has gone away due to whatever reason,its not worth killing yourself for,your life can be better,you just need to try.

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