Opposing risks have been identified between different prosocial activities, with volunteering having been linked to better mental health while caregiving has been associated with higher prevalence and incidence of depression. This study explored suicide risk of people engaged in prosocial activities of caregiving and/or volunteering.
A Census-based record linkage study of 1,018,000 people aged 25–74 years (130,816 caregivers; 110,467 volunteers; and 42,099 engaged in both) was undertaken. Caregiving (light: 1–19; intense: ≥20 h/week), volunteering and mental health status were derived from 2011 Census records. Suicide risk (45 months follow-up) was assessed using Cox models adjusted for baseline mental health.
Intense caregiving was associated with worse mental health (ORadj = 1.15: 95%CI = 1.12, 1.18) and volunteering with better mental health (OR = 0.87: 95%CI = 0.84, 0.89). For those engaged in both activities, likelihood of poor mental health was determined by caregiving level. There were 528 suicides during follow-up, with those engaged in both activities having the lowest risk of suicide (HR = 0.34: 95%CI = 0.14, 0.84). Engaging in either volunteering or caregiving was associated with lower suicide risk for those with good mental health at baseline (HR = 0.66: 95%CI = 0.49, 0.88) but not for their peers with baseline poor mental health (HR = 1.02: 95%CI = 0.69, 1.51).
Although an increased risk of poor mental health was identified amongst caregivers, there was no evidence of an increased risk of suicide.