Many factors can increase a person's risk of suicide—depression, impulsive tendencies, even, it seems, being male. Now, a new study shows that a loved one's suicide can itself be a risk factor, and researchers offer a possible explanation for that link.
In the newly published research, appearing today in BMJ Open, a team from University College London surveyed nearly 3,500 students and staffers from universities across the United Kingdom to find out how the act of suicide can influence the bereavement process. Compared to individuals grieving sudden losses by natural causes, the bereaved were 80 percent more likely to drop out of school or quit their jobs if their loved ones had committed suicide, and 64 percent more likely to attempt suicide themselves. (The authors caution, however, that because the survey respondents skewed female, the results may be more applicable to young women than men.)
There are important practical applications for the findings: According to the authors, "clinicians assessing suicide risk should inquire not only about a history of suicide in blood relatives, but also in friends and non-blood relatives."
And it's promising that the increased risk for these negative outcomes appeared to trace back to one factor: perceived social stigma. Respondents reported more social stigma when their sudden loss was caused by suicide rather than natural causes, and when the researchers accounted for that disparity, the difference in risk disappeared. More research is necessary to confirm a causal link between the two, but eliminating the stigma surrounding suicides could be a useful strategy to decrease risk for negative outcomes—namely, another suicide—in grieving individuals.