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Despite decades of suicide research, our ability to predict suicide has not changed. Why is this the case? We outline the unique challenges facing suicide research. Borrowing successful strategies from other medical fields, we propose specific research directions that aim to translate scientific findings into meaningful clinical impact.
Despite increased awareness that non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) poses a significant public health concern on college campuses worldwide, few studies have prospectively investigated the incidence of NSSI in college and considered targeting college entrants at high risk for onset of NSSI.
Using data from the Leuven College Surveys (n = 4,565; 56.8%female, Mage = 18.3, SD = 1.1), students provided data on NSSI, sociodemographics, traumatic experiences, stressful events, perceived social support, and mental disorders. A total of 2,163 baseline responders provided data at a two-year annual follow-up assessment (63.2% conditional response rate).
One-year incidence of first onset NSSI was 10.3% in year 1 and 6.0% in year 2, with a total of 8.6% reporting sporadic NSSI (1–4 times per year) and 7.0% reporting repetitive NSSI (≥ 5 times per year) during the first two years of college. Many hypothesized proximal and distal risk factors were associated with the subsequent onset of NSSI (ORs = 1.5–18.2). Dating violence prior to age 17 and severe role impairment in daily life were the strongest predictors. Multivariate prediction suggests that an intervention focused on the 10% at highest risk would reach 23.9% of students who report sporadic, and 36.1% of students who report repetitive NSSI during college (cross-validated AUCs =.70–.75).
The college period carries high risk for the onset of NSSI. Individualized web-based screening may be a promising approach for detecting young adults at high risk for self-injury and offering timely intervention.
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) prospectively predicts suicidal thoughts and behaviors in civilian populations. Despite high rates of suicide among US military members, little is known about the prevalence and course of NSSI, or how NSSI relates to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, in military personnel.
We conducted secondary analyses of two representative surveys of active-duty soldiers (N = 21 449) and newly enlisted soldiers (N = 38 507) from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS).
The lifetime prevalence of NSSI is 6.3% (1.2% 12-month prevalence) in active-duty soldiers and 7.9% (1.3% 12-month prevalence) in new soldiers. Demographic risk factors for lifetime NSSI include female sex, younger age, non-Hispanic white ethnicity, never having married, and lower educational attainment. The association of NSSI with temporally primary internalizing and externalizing disorders varies by service history (new v. active-duty soldiers) and gender (men v. women). In both active-duty and new soldiers, NSSI is associated with increased odds of subsequent onset of suicidal ideation [adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 1.66–1.81] and suicide attempts (adjusted OR = 2.02–2.43), although not with the transition from ideation to attempt (adjusted OR = 0.92–1.36). Soldiers with a history of NSSI are more likely to have made multiple suicide attempts, compared with soldiers without NSSI.
NSSI is prevalent among US Army soldiers and is associated with significantly increased odds of later suicidal thoughts and behaviors, even after NSSI has resolved. Suicide risk assessments in military populations should screen for history of NSSI.
Adolescence and young adulthood carry risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviours (STB). An increasing subpopulation of young people consists of college students. STB prevalence estimates among college students vary widely, precluding a validated point of reference. In addition, little is known on predictors for between-study heterogeneity in STB prevalence.
A systematic literature search identified 36 college student samples that were assessed for STB outcomes, representing a total of 634 662 students [median sample size = 2082 (IQR 353–5200); median response rate = 74% (IQR 37–89%)]. We used random-effects meta-analyses to obtain pooled STB prevalence estimates, and multivariate meta-regression models to identify predictors of between-study heterogeneity.
Pooled prevalence estimates of lifetime suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts were 22.3% [95% confidence interval (CI) 19.5–25.3%], 6.1% (95% CI 4.8–7.7%), and 3.2% (95% CI 2.2–4.5%), respectively. For 12-month prevalence, this was 10.6% (95% CI 9.1–12.3%), 3.0% (95% CI 2.1–4.0%), and 1.2% (95% CI 0.8–1.6%), respectively. Measures of heterogeneity were high for all outcomes (I2 = 93.2–99.9%), indicating substantial between-study heterogeneity not due to sampling error. Pooled estimates were generally higher for females, as compared with males (risk ratios in the range 1.12–1.67). Higher STB estimates were also found in samples with lower response rates, when using broad definitions of suicidality, and in samples from Asia.
Based on the currently available evidence, STB seem to be common among college students. Future studies should: (1) incorporate refusal conversion strategies to obtain adequate response rates, and (2) use more fine-grained measures to assess suicidal ideation.
The suicide rate has increased significantly among US Army soldiers over the past decade. Here we report the first results from a large psychological autopsy study using two control groups designed to reveal risk factors for suicide death among soldiers beyond known sociodemographic factors and the presence of suicide ideation.
Informants were next-of-kin and Army supervisors for: 135 suicide cases, 137 control soldiers propensity-score-matched on known sociodemographic risk factors for suicide and Army history variables, and 118 control soldiers who reported suicide ideation in the past year.
Results revealed that most (79.3%) soldiers who died by suicide have a prior mental disorder; mental disorders in the prior 30-days were especially strong risk factors for suicide death. Approximately half of suicide decedents tell someone that they are considering suicide. Virtually all of the risk factors identified in this study differed between suicide cases and propensity-score-matched controls, but did not significantly differ between suicide cases and suicide ideators. The most striking difference between suicides and ideators was the presence in the former of an internalizing disorder (especially depression) and multi-morbidity (i.e. 3+ disorders) in the past 30 days.
Most soldiers who die by suicide have identifiable mental disorders shortly before their death and tell others about their suicidal thinking, suggesting that there are opportunities for prevention and intervention. However, few risk factors distinguish between suicide ideators and decedents, pointing to an important direction for future research.
The stress sensitization theory hypothesizes that individuals exposed to childhood adversity will be more vulnerable to mental disorders from proximal stressors. We aimed to test this theory with respect to risk of 30-day major depressive episode (MDE) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) among new US Army soldiers.
The sample consisted of 30 436 new soldier recruits in the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience (Army STARRS). Generalized linear models were constructed, and additive interactions between childhood maltreatment profiles and level of 12-month stressful experiences on the risk of 30-day MDE and GAD were analyzed.
Stress sensitization was observed in models of past 30-day MDE (χ28 = 17.6, p = 0.025) and GAD (χ28 = 26.8, p = 0.001). This sensitization only occurred at high (3+) levels of reported 12-month stressful experiences. In pairwise comparisons for the risk of 30-day MDE, the risk difference between 3+ stressful experiences and no stressful experiences was significantly greater for all maltreatment profiles relative to No Maltreatment. Similar results were found with the risk for 30-day GAD with the exception of the risk difference for Episodic Emotional and Sexual Abuse, which did not differ statistically from No Maltreatment.
New soldiers are at an increased risk of 30-day MDE or GAD following recent stressful experiences if they were exposed to childhood maltreatment. Particularly in the military with an abundance of unique stressors, attempts to identify this population and improve stress management may be useful in the effort to reduce the risk of mental disorders.
The U.S. Army uses universal preventives interventions for several negative outcomes (e.g. suicide, violence, sexual assault) with especially high risks in the early years of service. More intensive interventions exist, but would be cost-effective only if targeted at high-risk soldiers. We report results of efforts to develop models for such targeting from self-report surveys administered at the beginning of Army service.
21 832 new soldiers completed a self-administered questionnaire (SAQ) in 2011–2012 and consented to link administrative data to SAQ responses. Penalized regression models were developed for 12 administratively-recorded outcomes occurring by December 2013: suicide attempt, mental hospitalization, positive drug test, traumatic brain injury (TBI), other severe injury, several types of violence perpetration and victimization, demotion, and attrition.
The best-performing models were for TBI (AUC = 0.80), major physical violence perpetration (AUC = 0.78), sexual assault perpetration (AUC = 0.78), and suicide attempt (AUC = 0.74). Although predicted risk scores were significantly correlated across outcomes, prediction was not improved by including risk scores for other outcomes in models. Of particular note: 40.5% of suicide attempts occurred among the 10% of new soldiers with highest predicted risk, 57.2% of male sexual assault perpetrations among the 15% with highest predicted risk, and 35.5% of female sexual assault victimizations among the 10% with highest predicted risk.
Data collected at the beginning of service in self-report surveys could be used to develop risk models that define small proportions of new soldiers accounting for high proportions of negative outcomes over the first few years of service.
Although mental disorders are significant predictors of educational attainment throughout the entire educational career, most research on mental disorders among students has focused on the primary and secondary school years.
The World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys were used to examine the associations of mental disorders with college entry and attrition by comparing college students (n = 1572) and non-students in the same age range (18–22 years; n = 4178), including non-students who recently left college without graduating (n = 702) based on surveys in 21 countries (four low/lower-middle income, five upper-middle-income, one lower-middle or upper-middle at the times of two different surveys, and 11 high income). Lifetime and 12-month prevalence and age-of-onset of DSM-IV anxiety, mood, behavioral and substance disorders were assessed with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI).
One-fifth (20.3%) of college students had 12-month DSM-IV/CIDI disorders; 83.1% of these cases had pre-matriculation onsets. Disorders with pre-matriculation onsets were more important than those with post-matriculation onsets in predicting subsequent college attrition, with substance disorders and, among women, major depression the most important such disorders. Only 16.4% of students with 12-month disorders received any 12-month healthcare treatment for their mental disorders.
Mental disorders are common among college students, have onsets that mostly occur prior to college entry, in the case of pre-matriculation disorders are associated with college attrition, and are typically untreated. Detection and effective treatment of these disorders early in the college career might reduce attrition and improve educational and psychosocial functioning.
A history of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (SITBs) is consistently cited as one of the strongest predictors of future suicidal behavior. However, stark discrepancies in the literature raise questions about the true magnitude of these associations. The objective of this study is to examine the magnitude and clinical utility of the associations between SITBs and subsequent suicide ideation, attempts, and death.
We searched PubMed, PsycInfo, and Google Scholar for papers published through December 2014. Inclusion required that studies include at least one longitudinal analysis predicting suicide ideation, attempts, or death using any SITB variable. We identified 2179 longitudinal studies; 172 met inclusion criteria.
The most common outcome was suicide attempt (47.80%), followed by death (40.50%) and ideation (11.60%). Median follow-up was 52 months (mean = 82.52, s.d. = 102.29). Overall prediction was weak, with weighted mean odds ratios (ORs) of 2.07 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.76–2.43] for ideation, 2.14 (95% CI 2.00–2.30) for attempts, and 1.54 (95% CI 1.39–1.71) for death. Adjusting for publication bias further reduced estimates. Diagnostic accuracy analyses indicated acceptable specificity (86–87%) and poor sensitivity (10–26%), with areas under the curve marginally above chance (0.60–0.62). Most risk factors generated OR estimates of <2.0 and no risk factor exceeded 4.5. Effects were consistent regardless of sample severity, sample age groups, or follow-up length.
Prior SITBs confer risk for later suicidal thoughts and behaviors. However, they only provide a marginal improvement in diagnostic accuracy above chance. Addressing gaps in study design, assessment, and underlying mechanisms may prove useful in improving prediction and prevention of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
This study examines: (1) the prevalence of Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) among Dutch and Belgian adolescents, (2) the associations between Big Five personality traits and NSSI engagement/versatility (i.e., number of NSSI methods), and (3) whether these associations are mediated by perceived stress and coping.
A total of 946 Flemish (46%) and Dutch (54%) non-institutionalized adolescents (Mean age = 15.52; SD = 1.34, 44% females) were surveyed. Measures included the NSSI subscale of the Self-Harm-Inventory, the Dutch Quick Big Five Personality questionnaire, the Perceived Stress Scale and the Utrecht Coping List for Adolescents. Examination of zero-order correlations was used to reveal associations, and hierarchical regression analysis was used to reveal potential mediators which were further examined within parallel mediation models by using a bootstrapping-corrected procedure.
Lifetime prevalence of NSSI was 24.31%. Neuroticism; perceived stress; and distractive, avoidant, depressive, and emotional coping were positively associated with NSSI engagement, whereas Agreeableness, Conscientiousness; and active, social, and optimistic coping were negatively associated with NSSI engagement. Observed relationships between personality traits and NSSI engagement were consistently explained by perceived stress and depressive coping. A higher versatility of NSSI was not associated with any Big Five personality trait, but was associated with higher scores on perceived stress and depressive coping and with lower scores on active and optimistic coping.
Our study suggests that a specific personality constellation is associated with NSSI engagement via high stress levels and a typical depressive reaction pattern to handle stressful life events.
Civilian suicide rates vary by occupation in ways related to occupational stress exposure. Comparable military research finds suicide rates elevated in combat arms occupations. However, no research has evaluated variation in this pattern by deployment history, the indicator of occupation stress widely considered responsible for the recent rise in the military suicide rate.
The joint associations of Army occupation and deployment history in predicting suicides were analysed in an administrative dataset for the 729 337 male enlisted Regular Army soldiers in the US Army between 2004 and 2009.
There were 496 suicides over the study period (22.4/100 000 person-years). Only two occupational categories, both in combat arms, had significantly elevated suicide rates: infantrymen (37.2/100 000 person-years) and combat engineers (38.2/100 000 person-years). However, the suicide rates in these two categories were significantly lower when currently deployed (30.6/100 000 person-years) than never deployed or previously deployed (41.2–39.1/100 000 person-years), whereas the suicide rate of other soldiers was significantly higher when currently deployed and previously deployed (20.2–22.4/100 000 person-years) than never deployed (14.5/100 000 person-years), resulting in the adjusted suicide rate of infantrymen and combat engineers being most elevated when never deployed [odds ratio (OR) 2.9, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1–4.1], less so when previously deployed (OR 1.6, 95% CI 1.1–2.1), and not at all when currently deployed (OR 1.2, 95% CI 0.8–1.8). Adjustment for a differential ‘healthy warrior effect’ cannot explain this variation in the relative suicide rates of never-deployed infantrymen and combat engineers by deployment status.
Efforts are needed to elucidate the causal mechanisms underlying this interaction to guide preventive interventions for soldiers at high suicide risk.
The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS) has found that the proportional elevation in the US Army enlisted soldier suicide rate during deployment (compared with the never-deployed or previously deployed) is significantly higher among women than men, raising the possibility of gender differences in the adverse psychological effects of deployment.
Person-month survival models based on a consolidated administrative database for active duty enlisted Regular Army soldiers in 2004–2009 (n = 975 057) were used to characterize the gender × deployment interaction predicting suicide. Four explanatory hypotheses were explored involving the proportion of females in each soldier's occupation, the proportion of same-gender soldiers in each soldier's unit, whether the soldier reported sexual assault victimization in the previous 12 months, and the soldier's pre-deployment history of treated mental/behavioral disorders.
The suicide rate of currently deployed women (14.0/100 000 person-years) was 3.1–3.5 times the rates of other (i.e. never-deployed/previously deployed) women. The suicide rate of currently deployed men (22.6/100 000 person-years) was 0.9–1.2 times the rates of other men. The adjusted (for time trends, sociodemographics, and Army career variables) female:male odds ratio comparing the suicide rates of currently deployed v. other women v. men was 2.8 (95% confidence interval 1.1–6.8), became 2.4 after excluding soldiers with Direct Combat Arms occupations, and remained elevated (in the range 1.9–2.8) after adjusting for the hypothesized explanatory variables.
These results are valuable in excluding otherwise plausible hypotheses for the elevated suicide rate of deployed women and point to the importance of expanding future research on the psychological challenges of deployment for women.
The US Army suicide rate has increased sharply in recent years. Identifying significant predictors of Army suicides in Army and Department of Defense (DoD) administrative records might help focus prevention efforts and guide intervention content. Previous studies of administrative data, although documenting significant predictors, were based on limited samples and models. A career history perspective is used here to develop more textured models.
The analysis was carried out as part of the Historical Administrative Data Study (HADS) of the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS). De-identified data were combined across numerous Army and DoD administrative data systems for all Regular Army soldiers on active duty in 2004–2009. Multivariate associations of sociodemographics and Army career variables with suicide were examined in subgroups defined by time in service, rank and deployment history.
Several novel results were found that could have intervention implications. The most notable of these were significantly elevated suicide rates (69.6–80.0 suicides per 100 000 person-years compared with 18.5 suicides per 100 000 person-years in the total Army) among enlisted soldiers deployed either during their first year of service or with less than expected (based on time in service) junior enlisted rank; a substantially greater rise in suicide among women than men during deployment; and a protective effect of marriage against suicide only during deployment.
A career history approach produces several actionable insights missed in less textured analyses of administrative data predictors. Expansion of analyses to a richer set of predictors might help refine understanding of intervention implications.
Suicide rates increase following periods of war; however, the mechanism through which this occurs is not known. The aim of this paper is to shed some light on the associations of war exposure, mental disorders, and subsequent suicidal behavior.
A national sample of Lebanese adults was administered the Composite International Diagnostic Interview to collect data on lifetime prevalence and age of onset of suicide ideation, plan, and attempt, and mental disorders, in addition to information about exposure to stressors associated with the 1975–1989 Lebanon war.
The onset of suicide ideation, plan, and attempt was associated with female gender, younger age, post-war period, major depression, impulse-control disorders, and social phobia. The effect of post-war period on each type of suicide outcome was largely explained by the post-war onset of mental disorders. Finally, the conjunction of having a prior impulse-control disorder and either being a civilian in a terror region or witnessing war-related stressors was associated with especially high risk of suicide attempt.
The association of war with increased risk of suicidality appears to be partially explained by the emergence of mental disorders in the context of war. Exposure to war may exacerbate disinhibition among those who have prior impulse-control disorders, thus magnifying the association of mental disorders with suicidality.
Suicide is a leading cause of death worldwide; however, little
information is available about the treatment of suicidal people, or about
barriers to treatment.
To examine the receipt of mental health treatment and barriers to care
among suicidal people around the world.
Twenty-one nationally representative samples worldwide
(n=55 302; age 18 years and over) from the World
Health Organization's World Mental Health Surveys were interviewed
regarding past-year suicidal behaviour and past-year healthcare use.
Suicidal respondents who had not used services in the past year were
asked why they had not sought care.
Two-fifths of the suicidal respondents had received treatment (from 17%
in low-income countries to 56% in high-income countries), mostly from a
general medical practitioner (22%), psychiatrist (15%) or
non-psychiatrist (15%). Those who had actually attempted suicide were
more likely to receive care. Low perceived need was the most important
reason for not seeking help (58%), followed by attitudinal barriers such
as the wish to handle the problem alone (40%) and structural barriers
such as financial concerns (15%). Only 7% of respondents endorsed stigma
as a reason for not seeking treatment.
Most people with suicide ideation, plans and attempts receive no
treatment. This is a consistent and pervasive finding, especially in
low-income countries. Improving the receipt of treatment worldwide will
have to take into account culture-specific factors that may influence the
process of help-seeking.
Suicide is a leading cause of death worldwide, but the precise effect of childhood adversities as risk factors for the onset and persistence of suicidal behaviour (suicide ideation, plans and attempts) are not well understood.
To examine the associations between childhood adversities as risk factors for the onset and persistence of suicidal behaviour across 21 countries worldwide.
Respondents from nationally representative samples (η = 55 299) were interviewed regarding childhood adversities that occurred before the age of 18 years and lifetime suicidal behaviour.
Childhood adversities were associated with an increased risk of suicide attempt and ideation in both bivariate and multivariate models (odds ratio range 1.2–5.7). The risk increased with the number of adversities experienced, but at a decreasing rate. Sexual and physical abuse were consistently the strongest risk factors for both the onset and persistence of suicidal behaviour, especially during adolescence. Associations remained similar after additional adjustment for respondents' lifetime mental disorder status.
Childhood adversities (especially intrusive or aggressive adversities) are powerful predictors of the onset and persistence of suicidal behaviours.