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Logo of jepicomhJournal of Epidemiology and Community HealthVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
J Epidemiol Community Health. 2005 May; 59(5): 407–412.
PMCID: PMC1733072

Midlife suicide risk, partner's psychiatric illness, spouse and child bereavement by suicide or other modes of death: a gender specific study


Study objective: To describe gender specific suicide rates associated with partner's psychiatric disorder, loss of a spouse, or child by suicide or other causes, being a parent, and marital status.

Design: Nested case-control study. Information on causes of death, psychiatric admission, marital status, children, and socioeconomic factors was obtained from routine registers.

Setting: Denmark.

Participants: 9011 people aged 25–60 years who committed suicide; 180 220 age-gender matched controls; 111 172 marital partners; 174 672 children.

Main results: The suicide risk in women whose partner had been first admitted with a psychiatric disorder after 31 December two years earlier was 6.9 (95% CI 3.6 to 13.0), whereas their male counterpart experienced a risk of 3.9 (2.7 to 5.6); p value gender difference = 0.39. Men who had lost their partner by suicide or other causes of death experienced a suicide risk of 46.2 (18.3 to 116.4) and 10.1 (6.5 to 15.8), respectively; the analogous risk among women were about one third: 15.8 (6.6 to 37.4) and 3.3 (1.5 to 7.2), respectively. Child bereavement by suicide or other causes imposed an approximate twofold risk increase in their parents, whereas being a parent was protective in women. Except for widows (1.6, 1.2 to 2.0) and widowers (3.0, 2.3 to 3.9) the suicide risk associated with being separated (2.0, 1.8 to 2.3), divorced (1.8, 1.7 to 2.0), never married (1.4, 1.3 to 1.6), cohabitant (1.2, 1.1 to 1.3) was virtually the same in the two sexes.

Conclusions: The suicide risk is associated with partner psychiatric illness. Conjugal bereavement is particularly indicative of suicide in men, and spousal suicide is particularly indicative of suicide. Child bereavement is associated with parental suicide, while being a parent is protective against suicide in women.

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