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Suicide Risk Higher Among People Arrested for Crimes


Can merely getting arrested, even if people are not found guilty, increase their risk of suicide? Results of a new study suggest that being processed through the criminal justice system is an independent risk factor for suicide.

Suicide risk factors may include getting arrested

The study was conducted by Roger Webb, PhD, of the University of Manchester in England, and his colleagues. They evaluated data from Danish national registries that included information on 27,219 suicides committed by people age 15 and older from 1981 to 2006. These data were compared with that from 524,899 matched controls.

A total of 18,063 men and 9,156 women had committed suicide during the period studied. While the prevalence of being arrested was higher among men (34.8%) than among women (12.8%), the association between being processed through the criminal justice system and the likelihood of suicide was consistently stronger for women in each verdict category.

For example, the likelihood of suicide was stronger for women in the four categories: sentencing to psychiatric treatment, a suspended sentence, not guilty verdicts, and noncustodial sentencing, with the strongest associations being in the first two categories.

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The risk of committing suicide was especially likely among violent offenders and among individuals who had had a recent or frequent run-in with the criminal justice system.

Although the researchers did not identify a reason for their findings, they noted that getting arrested appeared to either directly cause an increased risk of suicide or that people who have contact with the criminal justice system are predisposed to suicide.

In another current study, published in Psychiatry Research, investigators from the University of Rochester Medical Center looked at the relationship among childhood physical abuse, aggression, and suicide attempts among 266 criminal offenders. They found that lifetime aggression mediated the relationship between childhood physical abuse and suicide attempts, and that treating aggression may reduce the risk of suicide.

The University of Manchester study highlights a need for investigation into the relationship between being arrested and exposure to the criminal justice system and the risk of suicide. It also suggests more vigilant suicide prevention strategies need to be implemented.

Swogger MT et al. Psychiatry Research 2011 Feb 28; 185(3): 363-67
Webb R et al. Archives of General Psychiatry 2011; DOI:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.7