Women with a thriving social life have a lower risk for suicide, according to a new analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study.
Using data from 72,607 nurse respondents, Alexander C. Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and coauthors studied the connection between social integration and suicide. The nurses (ages 46 to 71 years) were surveyed about their social relationships beginning in 1992 and were followed until death or until June 2010.
The researchers measured levels of social integration based on an index of seven items that included questions about marital status, social network size, frequency of contact with social ties, and participation in religious or other social groups.
The majority of study participants were found to be in the highest (31,071 of 72,607) category of social integration. The findings showed that suicide risk was lowest among women in the highest and second-highest categories of social integration. Increasing or consistently high levels of social integration also were associated with a lower risk for suicide.
Socially isolated women were at greater risk of suicide and were more likely to be employed full time, were less physically active, consumed more alcohol and caffeine, and were more likely to smoke than socially integrated women.
Overall, there were 43 suicides from 1992 to 2010 and the most frequent means of suicide were poisoning by solid or liquid substances (21 suicides), followed by firearms and explosives (eight suicides) and strangulation and suffocation (six suicides).
“Interventions aimed at strengthening existing social network structures, or creating new ones, may be valuable programmatic tools in the primary prevention of suicide,” write the researchers.
So far, there has been minimal research on the social factors of suicide risk. Instead, most of the work in this field has emphasized the psychiatric, psychological or biological determinants of suicide.
“The social part has always been the weakest link of this paradigm and needs invigoration. Just as important, we already know, in broad terms, the positive and deleterious effects of social forces and factors in the development and evolution of conditions that are behaviorally and emotionally based,” writes Eric D. Caine, M.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y in a related editorial.
“Like heart disease 50 years ago, we do not need to have absolute certainty about the mechanism of action to begin to test and implement essential, broadly targeted preventive interventions.”
The findings are published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Source: JAMA Network Journals