Human contact can be a buffer against the dangers of becoming isolated and losing the will to live. Such engagement may be especially meaningful for men, a group for whom suicide is a leading cause of death.
A new study found that being married, being active in a religious organization, having a network of friends and having other social involvements reduced men’s risk of suicide.
Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, of the Center for Global Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, was this study’s lead author.
For this investigation, Dr. Tsai and his team of researchers reviewed 24 years worth of data on the health status of 34,901 men, 40 to 75 years of age, in the United States. In 1986, these men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, funded by Harvard School of Public Health and the National Cancer Institute. Of the 34,901 study participants, 56.6 percent were dentists and 20.7 percent were veterinarians. The remainder were in other professions.
Starting in 1986, the medical condition, diet, exercise, work, extracurricular activities and other aspects of those male study participants’ lives were regularly monitored. Also, in 1988, 1996 and 2012, the men answered questionnaires about their network of friends, social involvements and so forth.
Based on their analysis of data from that long-term study, Dr. Tsai’s research team concluded that men who were married, had many friends, regularly attended religious events and were involved in other social groups, among other activities, lowered their suicide risks by 200 percent.
Of all study participants, 41.5 percent were in a category researchers described as the highest level of social integration, and 21.5 percent were in the second-highest level of social integration.
Men who tended to be more isolated from others were more likely to smoke, to consume alcohol and caffeine, and to be more sedentary.
According to these researchers, deaths by suicide have increased in recent years, especially among middle-aged men. One in 10 male deaths in the United States is from suicide, they added.
Psychiatric and psychological care, including medicine and counseling, have been the main methods used to identify suicidal tendencies and curb suicide, the researchers wrote. But not everyone who dies by suicide shows signs of psychological trouble beforehand.
This study was published online July 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The National Institutes of Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded this study.
These researchers had full access to the data, and reported that they had no financial investments or other potential conflicts of interest.