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Intimate Relationships a Factor in 1 in 5 Suicides
  • Posted April 20, 2023

Intimate Relationships a Factor in 1 in 5 Suicides

One in five people who die by suicide experienced intimate partner problems that included divorce, separation, arguments and violence, new research shows.

"I think people hear the term intimate partner problems and go straight to intimate partner violence. That is a component of intimate partner problems, but it's not just about violence,"said study author Lt. Cmdr. Ayana Stanley, who began researching the issue while at the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Public Health.

"Romantic partners experience other kinds of relationship stressors, such as general hostility, arguments and jealousy,"said Stanley, who is now a program coordinator in the division of violence prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "By sharing resources for seeking help, we send a strong message that every life has value, there is hope and that seeking help is a sign of strength."

Suicide is a leading cause of death among Americans, with more than 48,000 people dying by suicide in 2021, according to the CDC.

For those who had intimate partner problems, it was more common to have other contributing issues, such as mental health problems, recent legal issues, and life stressors including unemployment and family problems, according to the researchers, who culled data from 2003 to 2020.

In suicides that did not involve intimate partner problems, the person who died was more likely to be older. The deaths were more likely to be preceded by health problems or being involved in crime.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from the CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System for 48 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

This database includes information about each death, medical examiner and toxicology reports, and law enforcement interviews with family members, friends and others who knew the victim.

The researchers examined 18 factors organized into three broad categories: health-related issues; life stressors, including the suicide of a friend or family member, financial problems and interpersonal violence as either the victim or abuser; and recent serious crimes or legal problems that may have contributed to the suicide.

The research included more than 402,000 suicides in Americans aged 18 and older. Almost half of those individuals were between the ages of 25 and 44. Most were white and male with at least a high school education.

Suicides involving intimate partner problems were more likely to involve interpersonal violence perpetration and victimization, arguments, financial problems, job problems, family problems and recent legal problems, along with mental health issues.

Individuals whose suicide did not involve intimate partner problems averaged around age 45. About 15% were 65 or older. Black individuals, women, those with less than a high school education and unmarried individuals were significantly more common in this group than in the other group.

The findings were published online recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Understanding the precipitating factors to suicide is key,"study co-author Pamela Orpinas, a professor in UGA's College of Public Health, said in a university news release. "They give us an idea of what we can do in terms of prevention."

The researchers also suggest systemic changes that could reduce certain risk factors, such as lack of housing and income instability.

"Programs that strengthen economic support can potentially reduce the risk of intimate partner problem-related suicides,"the study authors said. "Strengthening household financial security by providing unemployment benefits, temporary assistance, livable wages, medical benefits, and retirement and disability insurance " could both reduce tension in an intimate partner relationship and buffer the risk of suicide."

More information

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can help those who are in distress.

SOURCE: University of Georgia, news release, April 18, 2023

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