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Understanding Suicide Attempts Among Gay Men From Their Self-perceived Causes

Wang, Jen MPH, PhD*†; Plöderl, Martin PhD; Häusermann, Michael LSW§; Weiss, Mitchell G. MD, PhD†∥

The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: July 2015 - Volume 203 - Issue 7 - p 499–506
doi: 10.1097/NMD.0000000000000319
Original Articles

Gay men are at higher risk of suicidality. This paper describes the causes of suicide attempts as perceived by the men themselves and analyzes their impact on severity and recidivism. Mental health surveys conducted among gay men in Geneva, Switzerland, from two probability-based time-space samples in 2007 and 2011, were merged to yield a combined sample N = 762. Suicide ideation, plans, and attempts were assessed, and respondents who had ever attempted suicide answered open questions about perceived causes which were coded and categorized for analysis within the framework of cultural epidemiology. In all, 16.7% of the respondents reported a suicide attempt in their lifetime (59.5% of them with multiple attempts). At their latest attempt, over two thirds asserted intent to die, and half required medical assistance. There was a wide variety of perceived causes, with most individuals reporting multiple causes and many of the most common causes cited at both the first and most recent subsequent attempts. Social/inter-personal problems constitute the most prominent category. Problems with love/relationship and accepting one’s homosexuality figure consistently among the top three causes. Whereas the former tend to be associated with weaker intent to die, the latter are associated with the strongest intent to die and reported at multiple attempts. Problems with family are among the most common perceived causes at first attempt but not at the most recent subsequent attempt. Nevertheless, they tend to be related to the strongest intent to die and the greatest medical severity of all the perceived causes. Ten percent of men attempting suicide cited depression as a cause. Although it tended to be associated with weaker intent to die, depression was most likely to be reported at multiple attempts. Respondent-driven assessment yielded both common and idiosyncratic causes of suicide and their distinct effects. Some of these perceived causes are not prominent in the current literature, yet they have important implications for understanding risk and preventing suicide among gay men.

*Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Zurich, Zurich; †Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland; ‡Christian Doppler Klinik Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria; §Dialogai, Geneva; and ∥University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Send reprint requests to Jen Wang, MPH, PhD, Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine, Hirschengraben 84, CH-8001 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail:

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