Background. Although several epidemiological studies have found increases in the percentages of people who have made a suicide attempt, few cohort comparisons have been conducted to determine changes within this population over time. The purpose of this investigation was to determine if there have been changes in the clinical profile of suicide attempters in recent decades.
Method. Comparisons between a sample of 258 suicide attempters evaluated between 1970 and 1973 and a second sample of 179 suicide attempters evaluated between 1999 and 2002 were made on depression, hopelessness, suicide intent, drug use, history of suicide attempts and subsequent suicide attempts.
Results. Present-day suicide attempters were found to exhibit greater levels of depression (p=0·031), hopelessness (p=0·008), suicide intent (p<0·001), and had much higher rates of illicit drug use (p<0·001). Almost twice as many of the present-day suicide attempters had histories of four or more suicide attempts (p<0·001), and the present-day suicide attempters made subsequent suicide attempts at close to four times the rate in the year following the index attempt (p<0·001).
Conclusions. The present-day suicide attempters exhibited greater levels of psychopathology on every major variable assessed. Replication is necessary and public health implications are discussed.