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Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2001 Mar;16 Suppl 2:S7-19.

Suicide in women.

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Professor of Psychiatry, University of Birmingham, Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital, UK.


This article reviews research into suicide in women during the last 25 years. National rates vary between the extremes of 19/10(5) per year in Sri Lanka and < 1/10(5) per year in the Philippines and Egypt, but almost everywhere rates for women are much lower than male rates, with a median ratio of 2.8/1. The exceptions are in India and China, which report higher rates in young married women. The reproductive process has some influence. While menstruation, hormonal treatment, pregnancy and the puerperium have no major effect, unwanted pregnancy may still lead to suicide under certain circumstances, and severe labour can occasionally do so. Having children protects, but the relative risk is no more than 2.0 in nulliparous women. Social factors also have a limited effect. There are higher rates of suicide in divorced women, but the evidence on widowhood is equivocal. Prosperity and employment have no effect. Sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence undoubtedly lead to suicide attempts, but the evidence on completed suicide is lacking. There are many unanswered questions, especially why rates of completed suicide for women (with a greater prevalence of overt depression) are lower than for men, and why Chinese and Indian women have higher rates. More research is required, especially from developing nations.

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