Suicide of a close friend or relative increases the risk of a person dying by suicide and should be considered by GPs when assessing patients, researchers claim.
The team, who surveyed adults under 40 about their experiences of bereavement, found that those who had lost a friend or relative to suicide compared to natural causes had a 65% higher risk of attempting suicide, bringing the absolute risk to 10%.
They also found people had an 80% higher risk of dropping out of work or education after losing a friend or relative to suicide compared with people who were bereaved through natural causes.
But the researchers, from University College London, believe that these figures could be higher as a lack of responses from males with disadvantaged backgrounds in the survey could have resulted in an underestimation of the risk.
Questionnaire responses were gathered from adults in higher education institutions across the country, with the majority of feedback coming from women.
The researchers conclude in the study that bereavement by suicide is a specific risk factor for suicide attempt and should be considered by clinicians when assessing patients.
They wrote: ‘Our findings suggest that suicide risk assessment should extend screening for a family history of suicide to any history of suicide in non-blood relatives and friends.
‘However, until we have evidence-based interventions for this group, the best ways of mitigating this risk of suicide attempt are unclear.’
Dr Alexandra Pitman, author of the study, said: ‘Our results highlight the profound impact that suicide might have on friends and family members. However, these outcomes are by no means inevitable.’
NICE guidelines, set for review in September, currently do not mention history of suicide in friends and family as a risk factor for self-harm.