Suicidal behavior has increased since the onset of the global recession, a trend that may have long-term health and social implications.
To test whether suicide attempts among young people signal increased risk for later poor health and social functioning above and beyond a preexisting psychiatric disorder.
We followed up a cohort of young people and assessed multiple aspects of their health and social functioning as they approached midlife. Outcomes among individuals who had self-reported a suicide attempt up through age 24 years (young suicide attempters) were compared with those who reported no attempt through age 24 years (nonattempters). Psychiatric history and social class were controlled for.
Setting and Participants
The population-representative Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which involved 1037 birth cohort members comprising 91 young suicide attempters and 946 nonattempters, 95% of whom were followed up to age 38 years.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Outcomes were selected to represent significant individual and societal costs: mental health, physical health, harm toward others, and need for support.
As adults approaching midlife, young suicide attempters were significantly more likely to have persistent mental health problems (eg, depression, substance dependence, and additional suicide attempts) compared with nonattempters. They were also more likely to have physical health problems (eg, metabolic syndrome and elevated inflammation). They engaged in more violence (eg, violent crime and intimate partner abuse) and needed more social support (eg, long-term welfare receipt and unemployment). Furthermore, they reported being lonelier and less satisfied with their lives. These associations remained after adjustment for youth psychiatric diagnoses and social class.
Conclusions and Relevance
Many young suicide attempters remain vulnerable to costly health and social problems into midlife. As rates of suicidal behavior rise with the continuing global recession, additional suicide prevention efforts and long-term monitoring and after-care services are needed.