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Psychol Med. 2002 Jan;32(1):11-24.

A twin study of genetic and environmental influences on suicidality in men.

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  • 1Missouri Alcoholism Research Center at Washington University, Department of Psychiatry and Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri 63108, USA.



Previous studies that have examined genetic influences on suicidal behaviour were confounded by genetic vulnerability for psychiatric risk factors. The present study examines genetic influences on suicidality (i.e. suicidal ideation and/or suicide attempt) after controlling for the inheritance of psychiatric disorders.


Sociodemographics, combat exposure, lifetime DSM-III-R major depression, bipolar disorder, childhood conduct disorder, adult antisocial personality disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug dependence, alcohol dependence and lifetime suicidal ideation and attempt were assessed in 3372 twin pairs from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry who were assessed in 1987 and 1992. Genetic risk factors for suicidality were examined in a multinomial logistic regression model. Additive genetic, shared environmental and non-shared environmental effects on suicidality were estimated using structural equation modelling, controlling for other risk factors.


The prevalence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt were 16.1% and 2.4% respectively. In a multinomial regression model, co-twin's suicidality, being white, unemployment, being other than married, medium combat exposure and psychiatric disorders were significant predictors for suicidal ideation. Co-twin's suicidality, unemployment, marital disruption, low education attainment and psychiatric disorders (except childhood conduct disorder) were significant predictors for suicide attempt. Model-fitting suggested that suicidal ideation was influenced by additive genetic (36%) and non-shared environmental (64%) effects, while suicide attempt was affected by additive genetic (17%), shared environmental (19%) and non-shared environmental (64%) effects.


There may be a genetic susceptibility specific to both suicidal ideation and suicide attempt in men, which is not explained by the inheritance of common psychiatric disorders.

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