Suicide and Known Mental Health Status among Males

October 21, 2022
News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

In a new study, researchers examined suicide among males across the life span and its association with known mental health conditions.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System, the researchers analyzed 70,376 suicide deaths from 2016 through 2018. They compared suicide characteristics with and without known mental health conditions among four groups of males (ages 10-17, 18-34, 35-64, and ≥ 65). Data was based on death certificates and coroner/medical examiner and law enforcement reports, and suicide was defined as deaths of persons ≥ 10 years old from intentional self-harm.

The analysis found 40% of all males had a history of known mental health conditions. Males with known mental health conditions were more likely to have a history of suicidal thoughts and/or suicide attempts. Among those recently released from an institution (10% of participants), those with a known mental health condition were more likely to have been released from a psychiatric hospital, while those without a known mental health condition were more likely to have been released from jail/prison.

Males without a history of known mental health conditions were more likely to have had a recent or impending crisis, such as eviction/home loss, relationship problems, or criminal/legal problems; live in a rural area; have disclosed suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts; used firearms as a suicide method; and have been recently released from jail/prison. 

Among males 65 and older, physical health problems also appeared to be a risk factor for suicide. Substance use was common in both groups but more likely in those with known mental health conditions.

This study helps shed light on risk factors for suicide among males across the life span with and without known mental health conditions. The findings highlight the importance of a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, including strategies to reduce the impact of social stressors and provide supportive environments, especially in cases of substance misuse or access to firearms.

Unlike previous research of its kind, this study used medical records or other official documents to determine mental illness rather than interviews with family members, which may be less objective and subject to bias. However, it is possible that some individuals with mental health conditions were undiagnosed. The authors note that non-White, lower educated, and rural males were less likely to have had a known mental health condition, which may reflect disparities in access to mental health care.

As of 2018, data in the National Violent Death Reporting System was only available for 39 states, reflecting 72% of the U.S. population and Puerto Rico, so the data used in this study was not national in scope. Also, routine assessments of substance use are not standard across jurisdictions and not all substances are routinely screened for.

Fowler, K. A., Kaplan, M. S., Stone, D. M., Zhou, H., Stevens, M. R., Simon, T. R. (2022). Suicide among males across the lifespan: An analysis of differences by known mental health status. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 63(3), 419–422.