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Living alone, loneliness and lack of emotional support as predictors of suicide and self-harm: seven-year follow up of the UK Biobank cohort

By Richard John Shaw, Breda Cullen, Nicholas Graham, Donald M. Lyall, Daniel MacKay, Chukwudi Okolie, Robert Pearsall, Joey Ward, Ann John, Daniel J Smith

Posted 10 Oct 2019
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/19008458

BackgroundThe association between loneliness and suicide is complex, poorly understood, and there are no prior longitudinal studies. We aimed to investigate the relationship between living alone, loneliness and emotional support as predictors of death by suicide and self-harm. MethodsBetween 2006 and 2010 UK Biobank recruited over 0.5m people aged 37-73. This data was linked to prospective hospital admission and mortality records. Adjusted Cox regression models were used to investigate the relationship between self-reported measures of loneliness, emotional support and living arrangements and death by suicide and self-harm. ResultsFor women, there was no evidence that living arrangements, loneliness or lack of emotional support were associated with death by suicide. However, for men, both living alone (Hazard Ratio (HR) 2.19 95%CI 1.47-3.27) and with non-partners (HR 2.17 95%CI 1.28-3.69) were associated with death by suicide, independently of loneliness, which had a modest relationship with suicide in men (HR 1.45 95%CI 0.99-2.12). Associations between living alone and self-harm were explained by health for women, and by health, loneliness and emotional support for men. In fully adjusted models, loneliness was associated with hospital admissions for self-harm in both women (HR 1.90 95%CI 1.58-2.29) and men (HR 1.75 95%CI 1.41-2.18). ConclusionsFor men -but not for women- living alone or with a non-partner increased the risk of suicide, a finding not explained by loneliness. Loneliness may be more important as a risk factor for self-harm than for suicide, and appears to mitigate against any protective effect of cohabitation.

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