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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU: New Factors Linked to Suicide

A new, first-of-its-kind study led by Boston University School of Public Health researchers finds that physical illness and injury raises the risk of suicide in men but not women, along with a plethora of other insights into the complex factors that may increase a person’s risk of suicide.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry is the first to use data from the population of an entire country and parse it with a machine-learning system to identify suicide risk factors.

“Suicide is incredibly challenging to predict, because every suicide death is the result of multiple interacting risk factors in one’s life,” says lead study author Dr. Jaimie Gradus, associate professor of epidemiology.

Denmark has a national healthcare system with the entire population’s healthcare information compiled in government registries. This allowed Dr. Gradus and her colleagues to look at thousands of factors in the health histories of all 14,103 individuals who died from suicide in the country from 1995 through 2015, and the health histories of 265,183 other Danes in the same period, using a machine-learning system to look for patterns.

Many of the study’s findings confirmed previously-identified risk factors, such as psychiatric disorders and related prescriptions. The researchers also found new potential risk patterns, including that diagnoses and prescriptions four years before a suicide were more important to prediction than diagnoses and prescriptions six months before, and that physical health diagnoses were particularly important to men’s suicide prediction but not women’s.

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