Suicide attempt as a risk factor for completed suicide: Even more lethal than we knew

J. Michael Bostwick, Chaitanya Pabbati, Jennifer R. Geske, Alastair J. McKean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


Objective: While suicide attempt history is considered to robustly predict completed suicide, previous studies have limited generalizabilitybecauseofusingconveniencesamplesofspecific methods/treatment settings, disregarding previous attempts, or overlooking first-attempt deaths. Eliminating these biases should more accurately estimate suicide prevalence in attempters. Method: This observational retrospective-prospective cohort study using the Rochester Epidemiology Project identified 1,490 (males, N=555; females, N=935) Olmsted County residents making index suicide attempts (first lifetime attempts reaching medical attention) between January 1, 1986, and December 31, 2007. The National Death Index identified suicides between enrollment and December 31, 2010 (follow-up 3-25 years). Medical records were queried for sex, age, method, and follow-up care for index attempt survivors. Coroner records yielded data on index attempt deaths. Results: During the study period, 81/1,490 enrollees (5.4%) died by suicide. Of the 81, 48 (59.3%) perished on index attempt; 27 of the surviving 33 index attempt survivors (81.8%) killed themselves within a year. Males were disproportionately represented: 62/81 (11.2% of men, 76.5% of suicides) compared with 19/81 (2.0% of women, 23.5% of suicides). Of dead index attempters, 72.9% used guns, yielding an odds ratio for gunshot death,comparedwithallothermethods,of140(95%CI=60-325). When adjusted for covariates, survivors given follow-up psychiatric appointments had significantly lower likelihood of subsequent suicide (odds ratio=0.212, 95% CI=0.089-0.507). Conclusions: At 5.4%, completed suicide prevalence in this community cohort of suicide attempters was almost 59% higher than previously reported. An innovative aspect of this study explains the discrepancy: by including index attempt deaths-approximately 60% of total suicides-suicide prevalence more than doubled. We contend that counting both index and subsequent attempt deaths more accurately reflects prevalence. Our findings support suicide attempt as an even more lethal risk factor for completed suicide than previously thought. Research should focus on identifying risk factors for populations vulnerable to making first attempts and target risk reduction in those groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1094-1100
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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