Journal of Affective Disorders, 306, 157-166


Does social support prevent suicidal ideation in women and men? Gender-sensitive analyses of an important protective factor within prospective community cohorts


Background: Suicidal ideation and behavior constitute important public mental health issues. In this study, we examined whether social integration prevents suicidal ideation over time and whether gender modifies this association.

Methods: Data from the Gutenberg Health Study (population-based representative community sample in midwest Germany) and the Study of Health in Pomerania (population-based cohort study in northeast Germany) were used. Participants reporting low social support were compared to those receiving middle or high social support. Within a longitudinal study design, we calculated multiple logistic regression models including interaction terms and relevant covariates to test whether gender modified the association of social support and suicidal ideation.

Results: Suicidal ideation was present in 7.4% (N = 982) of the pooled cohorts' 13,290 participants. More women (8.6%, N = 565) than men (6.2%, N = 417) reported suicidal ideation. Middle or high social support was associated with a lower probability to report suicidal ideation five years later after controlling for sociodemographic factors, living situation, and cohort (OR = 0.42, 95%-CI = 0.34-0.52). Male gender was negatively related to suicidal ideation, but no statistically significant interaction of gender and social support was found (ratio of ORs = 1.00, 95%-CI = 0.73-1.35).

Limitations: The number of people reporting suicidal ideation in the SHIP study was small, especially for men. Suicidal ideation was measured using a single item.

Conclusions: Social support is an important protective factor in preventing suicidal ideation for both women and men. Future research should further clarify gender-specific effects of family variables in suicidal ideation and test similar predictive models of suicidal behavior.

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Otten, D., Ernst, M., Tibubos, A.N., Brähler, E., Fleischer, T., Schomerus, G., Wild, P.S., Zöller, D., Binder, H., Kruse, J., Johar, H., Atasoy, S., Grabe, H.J., Ladwig, K-H., Münzel, T., Völzke, H., König, J., & Beutel, M.E.