We aimed to test the hypothesis that among people who experience sudden bereavement, loneliness is associated with post-bereavement suicide attempt and post-bereavement suicidal ideation, even when adjusting for network size.
We analysed cross-sectional data collected in the 2010 UCL Bereavement Study, to identify 3193 respondents who had experienced sudden bereavement. We used multivariable logistic regression to test for an association between loneliness (using a newly-developed eight-item loneliness measure) and post-bereavement suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, adjusting for socio-demographic factors, pre-bereavement depression and self-harm, and network size.
Among bereaved adults, loneliness was significantly associated with probability of post-bereavement suicide attempt (AOR 1.19; 95% CI 1.14–1.25) and of post-bereavement suicidal ideation (AOR 1.24; 95% CI 1.20–1.28), with estimates unchanged by adding perceived stigma of the bereavement to adjusted models. There was no association between suicide bereavement and loneliness (adjusted coefficient 0.22; 95% CI − 0.12 to 0.45; p = 0.063). The association of loneliness and suicide attempt risk was similar whether participants were bereaved by suicide or not.
People who report feeling lonely after sudden bereavement are more likely to make a suicide attempt after their loss, even when taking into account their network size and the perceived stigma of the sudden bereavement. There is no evidence that the effects of loneliness on suicidality are specific to suicide bereavement. This work identifies loneliness as a potential target for suicide prevention interventions among bereaved people. It also fuels interest in longitudinal research investigating loneliness as a putative mediator of suicide risk.