Widows are at a higher risk of suicide than widowed men, according to figures from the last 24 years.

The study looked at completed suicides in Malta between 1995 and 2018. It found that nearly half of the people who died by suicide were married.

The study, which was presented by consultant psychiatrist Ethel Felice at a seminar on suicide prevention organised by the Maltese Association of Psychiatry, was based on 635 suicides. Men made up 80 per cent of the victims.

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Information on marital status was available for 559 people in all: 46.5% were married, 4.7% widowed and 6.8% separated. The marital status was similar across genders. 

However, only two per cent of the men who died by suicide, compared to 14.7% of the women, were widowed. 

Dr Felice flagged marital status as a significant finding.

Studies abroad have shown that men benefit from marriage more than women, given women’s investment in caring for the family. This would place widowers at a higher risk of dying by suicide than widows.  

Significant others need to be taught to recognise signs and refer them to the appropriate services

However, the contrary appears to be true in the local context, according to Dr Felice. The figures show that being widowed puts women at a higher risk for suicide than men.

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Dr Felice made a series of recommendations, including having more accurate and consistent classification and recording of suicide according to intent.

She also suggested national data collection through regular surveillance or a suicide database. This would be essential to the implementation of a national strategy or action plan for suicide prevention. At the moment, there is no national suicide prevention programme for the Maltese population. 

Another important recommendation was to improve the provision of mental health care. Given that nearly half of the individuals in the study had never had contact with psychiatric services, significant others needed to be taught to recognise signs and refer individuals to the appropriate services. 

Interventions ought to target men, people in the 30 to 49 age group and those at risk of unemployment, said Dr Felice. 

The data shows a fifth of the 467 people about whom employment status was available were unemployed. More than a quarter were pensioners while 4.5 per cent were students.

In numbers...

■ One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds in the world – a total of 800,000 every year.
■ It is second leading cause of death globally for those aged between 15 and 29.
■ Debt and unemployment were the factors most strongly associated with rises in suicide during the recession in Europe.
■ In almost all regions of the world, suicide rates are lowest under the age of 15 and highest over the age of 70.
■ Mediterranean countries have overall lower suicide rates than other European countries. However, while European countries have shown a clear drop in suicide rates, rates in Malta have shown a notable increase.

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