Does social support prevent suicidal ideation in women and men? Gender-sensitive analyses of an important protective factor within prospective community cohorts
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.
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.
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).
The number of people reporting suicidal ideation in the SHIP study was small, especially for men. Suicidal ideation was measured using a single item.
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.