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Poverty and suicide research in low- and middle-income countries: systematic mapping of literature published in English and a proposed research agenda

  • J. Bantjes (a1), V. Iemmi (a2), E. Coast (a3), K. Channer (a4), T. Leone (a3), D. McDaid (a2) (a3), A. Palfreyman (a3), B. Stephens (a1) and C. Lund (a5) (a6)...


Approximately 75% of suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where rates of poverty are high. Evidence suggests a relationship between economic variables and suicidal behaviour. To plan effective suicide prevention interventions in LMICs we need to understand the relationship between poverty and suicidal behaviour and how contextual factors may mediate this relationship. We conducted a systematic mapping of the English literature on poverty and suicidal behaviour in LMICs, to provide an overview of what is known about this topic, highlight gaps in literature, and consider the implications of current knowledge for research and policy. Eleven databases were searched using a combination of key words for suicidal ideation and behaviours, poverty and LMICs to identify articles published in English between January 2004 and April 2014. Narrative analysis was performed for the 84 studies meeting inclusion criteria. Most English studies in this area come from South Asia and Middle, East and North Africa, with a relative dearth of studies from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the available evidence comes from upper middle-income countries; only 6% of studies come from low-income countries. Most studies focused on poverty measures such as unemployment and economic status, while neglecting dimensions such as debt, relative and absolute poverty, and support from welfare systems. Most studies are conducted within a risk-factor paradigm and employ descriptive statistics thus providing little insight into the nature of the relationship. More robust evidence is needed in this area, with theory-driven studies focussing on a wider range of poverty dimensions, and employing more sophisticated statistical methods.

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Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: J. Bantjes, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, Cape Town, South Africa. (Email:


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