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Genetic and other risk factors for suicidal ideation and the relationship with depression

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

R. Dutta, H. A. Ball, S. Siribaddana, A Sumathipala, S Samaraweera, Peter McGuffin, M. Hotopf

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2438-2449
Number of pages12
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number14
Early online date8 May 2017
Accepted/In press21 Mar 2017
E-pub ahead of print8 May 2017
Published13 Sep 2017


King's Authors


Background There is a genetic contribution to the risk of suicide, but sparse prior research on the genetics of suicidal ideation.

Methods Active and passive suicidal ideation were assessed in a Sri Lankan population-based twin registry (n=3,906 twins) and a matched non-twin sample (n=2,016). Logistic regression models were used to examine associations with sociodemographic factors, environmental exposures and psychiatric symptoms. The heritability of suicidal ideation was assessed using structural equation modelling.

Results The lifetime prevalence of any suicidal ideation was 13.0% (11.7-14.3%) for men; 21.8% (20.3-23.2%) for women, with no significant difference between twins and non-twins. Factors that predicted suicidal ideation included female gender, termination of marital relationship, low education level, urban residence, losing a parent whilst young, low standard of living, and stressful life events in the preceding 12 months. Suicidal ideation was strongly associated with depression, but also with abnormal fatigue, and alcohol and tobacco use.
The best fitting structural equation model indicated a substantial contribution from genetic factors (57%; CI 47–66) and from non-shared environmental factors (43%; CI 34–53) in both men and women. In women this genetic component was largely mediated through depression, but in men there was a significant heritable component to suicidal ideation that was independent of depression.

Conclusions These are the first results to show a genetic contribution to suicidal ideation that is independent of depression outside of a high-income country. These phenomena may be generalizable, because previous research highlights similarities between the aetiology of mental disorders in Sri Lanka and higher-income countries.

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