The majority of boys and men who die by suicide have no known mental health conditions, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found.
Katherine A. Fowler, Ph.D., of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and colleagues analyzed data from the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) for 70,376 males aged 10 years and older who died by suicide between 2016 and 2018. The researchers looked at data from four age groups: adolescents (aged 10 to 17 years), young adults (aged 18 to 34 years), middle-aged adults (aged 35 to 64 years), and older adults (aged 65 years and older). They used the NVDRS definition of a diagnosed mental health problem to determine if males who had died by suicide during the study period had any known mental health conditions. The NVDRS defines “diagnosed mental health problems” as diagnosed disorders and syndromes listed in DSM-5 except for alcohol and other substance use disorders. The definition also includes a history of treatment for a mental health problem, even if the nature of the problem is unclear in the person’s records (for example, the records say the person “was being treated for various psychiatric problems”).
Overall, 60% of males who died by suicide had no known mental health conditions. Across all age groups, firearm suicides were more common among males without known mental health conditions compared with males who had known mental health conditions. Between 32% and 40% of all young and middle-aged adults in the study had a history of problematic substance use. Between 43% and 48% of all young and middle-aged adults tested positive for alcohol at the time of their death.
Relationship problems were common among males who died by suicide, especially among adolescents, young adults, and middle-aged adults with no known mental health conditions. Intimate partner problems were significantly more common for young and middle-aged adults with no known mental health conditions, and family problems were the most common type of problem for adolescents with or without known mental health conditions. Arguments were common across age groups and were significantly more prevalent among young and middle-aged adults without known mental health conditions, particularly among those who died by suicide during an argument.
Fowler and colleagues wrote, “Suicide prevention initiatives for males might benefit from comprehensive approaches focusing on age-specific stressors reported in this study in addition to standard psychiatric markers.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric Services article “Preventing Suicide Through Better Firearm Safety Policy in the United States.”
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