To examine the association between social integration and suicide, Alexander Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and colleagues analyzed data from 72,607 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study who were surveyed about their social relationships from 1992 to 2010. Social integration was based on a seven-item scale covering “marital status, social network size, frequency of contact with social ties, and participation in religious or other social groups.”
Overall, there were 43 suicides during 1,209,366 person-years of follow-up—a rate the authors noted is lower than suicide rates nationally. After adjustment for age and other variables, the authors determined that women with the highest level of social integration had a hazard ratio for suicide of 0.23 versus 1.0 for women recording the lowest level of social integration.
“Our study strongly suggests that social integration has a protective association against suicide risk for women, even after adjustment for multiple indicators of poor mental health,” the authors wrote. “Interventions aimed at strengthening existing social network structures, or creating new ones, may be valuable programmatic tools in the primary prevention of suicide.”
“[T]he results of their study invite further research to explore whether factors or behaviors that reflect longstanding measures of individual social integration predict a person’s mindset when he or she is suicidal,” wrote Eric Caine, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester, in an accompanying editorial.
For more in Psychiatric News about suicide, see “Stigma: ‘I Need to Tell You Something I’ve Never Spoken to You About’.”