Family History, Childhood Trauma Increase Suicide Risk for Men

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Researchers and mental health professionals have known for a long time that men and boys have elevated chances of dying from suicide, even though they make suicide attempts far less often than women and girls. Researchers and doctors have also identified many of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of suicide. According to the results of a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Affective Disorders, men and boys have especially heightened risks for making suicide attempts or successfully killing themselves when they have a family history of suicide or a personal history of exposure to violent forms of childhood trauma.

Suicide Statistics

According to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 million American adults made a suicide attempt in 2012. Among older teenagers and adults in their early 20s, roughly one suicide-related death results from every 100 to 200 suicide attempts, and slightly more than 2 percent of high school-age teens make suicide attempts serious enough to merit some form of medical intervention. Women and girls contemplate and attempt suicide far more often than men and boys. However, men and boys die from suicide with much greater frequency and account for almost four out of every five suicide-related deaths. Generally speaking, men and boys die more often because they choose more irreversibly lethal forms of suicide than women and girls.

Childhood Trauma Basics

Childhood trauma is a general term used to describe events or situations that override a child’s ability to compensate mentally/emotionally for the effects of stress. Common examples of such situations or events include involvement in major accidents, the death of a parent or another family member, exposure to natural disasters or terrorism, abandonment by parents or caretakers, neglect by parents or caretakers, exposure to physical abuse, exposure to sexual abuse, exposure to some forms of bullying, witnessing violent behavior between one’s parents, living in an otherwise violent home environment, living in a persistently chaotic home environment, and witnessing violence in one’s community. Known potential consequences of childhood trauma include poor academic performance, a reduced ability to learn or interact socially, an increase in impulsive behavior, loss of emotional stability and an array of physical symptoms.

Known Suicide Risks

Exposure to neglect, abandonment, physical abuse or sexual abuse during childhood is an identified risk factor for attempting or committing suicide, the CDC reports. Suicide in one’s family history is also a known suicide risk factor. Additional prominent risks include mental health problems, inadequate care for mental health problems, drug abuse/addiction, alcohol abuse/addiction, lack of ongoing social contact, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, loss of social standing, access to guns or other suicide means, high levels of aggression or impulsivity, and failure to seek treatment for drug problems, alcohol problems or mental health problems.

Increased Risks for Males

In the study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, a team of Swedish researchers assessed the impact of violent childhood trauma and family history on suicide risks in men and boys, both in terms of the likelihood of suicide attempts and the likelihood of lethal suicide outcomes. This assessment was made by examining the lives of 181 men and boys who had made successful or unsuccessful suicide attempts. Specific manifestations of childhood trauma under consideration included exposure to some form of violence in either early childhood or later teenage years, as well as the presence of violent behaviors in the aftermath of trauma exposure.

After reviewing the compiled information, the study’s authors found that two specific factors—a family suicide history and early childhood exposure to one-on-one violence—increase the chances that a man or younger male will make a suicide attempt. They also found that men and boys with suicide in their family histories plan their suicides more completely than other people and choose more lethal forms of suicide than other people, and therefore generally have substantially higher chances of killing themselves than the average suicide attempter.


The authors of the study in the Journal of Affective Disorders note the fact that family histories of suicide may sometimes indicate the presence of a genetic predisposition toward suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In men and boys with such a predisposition, the effects of violent childhood trauma may act as a trigger that turns suicidal potential into suicidal reality. If this is the case, mental health professionals and other doctors may be able to reduce male suicide rates by identifying and counteracting trauma-related risk factors as early in life as possible.

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