UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Epidemiology | Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health


BACKGROUND: Little research has been conducted into the physical health implications of suicide bereavement compared to other causes of death. There is some evidence that suicide bereaved parents have higher morbidity, particularly in terms of chronic illness. This systematic review aims to examine the physical and psychosomatic morbidities of people bereaved by a family member's suicide and compare them with family members bereaved by other modes of death.

METHODS: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and PsycINFO were searched from 1985 to February 2016. The search was re-run in March 2017. Peer-reviewed English language articles comparing suicide-bereaved family members to non-suicide bereaved family members on measures of physical or psychosomatic health were eligible for inclusion. Cohort, cross-sectional, case-control and cohort-based register studies were eligible for inclusion. A modified version of the Newcastle Ottawa Scale was used for quality assessment. Results were synthesised using narrative synthesis.

RESULTS: The literature search located 24 studies which met the inclusion criteria. Seven studies found statistically significant associations between physical health and suicide bereavement. Five of the studies found that suicide-bereaved family members were more likely to experience pain, more physical illnesses and poorer general health. They were also at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In contrast, another study in Denmark found that those bereaved by suicide had a lower risk of a number of physical health disorders, including cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular and chronic lower respiratory tract disorders compared to those bereaved by other causes of death. Additionally, a further study conducted in the United States found that suicide-bereaved children visited a GP less frequently than non-suicide bereaved children.

CONCLUSIONS: Review findings are relevant for clinicians working with people bereaved by suicide as they highlight that such clients are at increased risk of several adverse physical health outcomes. Future research should examine health risk behaviours of suicide-bereaved and non-suicide bereaved family members as they may confound the association between exposure and outcome.

TRIAL REGISTRATIONS: The review protocol has been registered on PROSPERO, registration number CRD42016030007 .


Bereavement, Morbidity, Physical health, Psychosomatic health, Suicide, Systematic review

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© The Author(s). 2017. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

DOI of Published Version



BMC Public Health. 2017 Dec 12;17(1):939. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4930-3. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

BMC public health

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PubMed ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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