Suicide Attempts and Homelessness: Timing of Attempts Among Recently Homeless, Past Homeless, and Never Homeless Adults [2020]

Objective:
Homelessness is associated with increased risk of suicide attempts. This study examined whether suicide attempts typically precede or occur during episodes of homelessness in a representative national sample.

Methods:
Data from 36,127 adults in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III were used to identify 1,992 respondents who reported a lifetime suicide attempt. Bivariate analyses compared attempt histories between adults who reported past-year homelessness, homelessness prior to the past year, and no history of homelessness. Measures included years since most recent attempt and first attempt and proportion attempting suicide in the past year. Multivariable analyses adjusted for potentially confounding effects of age and identified independent factors associated with past-year attempts along with past-year homelessness.

Results:
Among respondents who experienced homelessness in the past year, 21.0% reported a past-year suicide attempt, compared with 5.8% among those experiencing homelessness prior to the past year and 6.3% of those who were never homeless. However, the most recent attempt among those with past-year homelessness occurred 8.4 years previously, on average—3.8 years and 4.5 years more recently than among those experiencing homelessness prior to the past year and those who were never homeless, after age adjustment. Overall, first suicide attempts occurred 19.9 years previously, on average, with no significant group differences after age adjustment.

Conclusions:
Rates of past-year suicide attempts and past-year homelessness were strongly associated, suggesting that homelessness and suicidality strongly co-occur. However, among adults with recent homelessness and a suicide attempt history, suicidal behavior began decades ago and likely preceded homelessness.

Tanner J. Bommersbach, M.D., M.P.H., Elina A. Stefanovics, Ph.D., Taeho Greg Rhee, Ph.D., Jack Tsai, Ph.D., Robert A. Rosenheck, M.D.
Psychiatric Services, 29 Sep 2020
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