Year: 2022 Source: SSM Population Health. (2022). 17, 101059. SIEC No: 20220203

U.S. suicide rates are at a thirty-year high while physical health, as measured by life expectancy and pain, has declined, particularly for those without a college degree. We investigate how these patterns may be related by exploring the role of physical health problems in suicide deaths using 2019 data from the National Violent Death Reporting System. We estimate multilevel logistic regression models to examine (1) how individual risk factors are associated with the likelihood of a physical health circumstance underlying a suicide over the life course and (2) how context – the socioeconomic, health and policy environment of the state in which a decedent resides – may play a role. Physical health circumstances were present in about 20% of all suicides and in over half of suicide deaths for the older population in 2019. A gender crossover effect exists, in which women are more likely to have a physical health problem contribute to a suicide prior to age 60, but men surpass women after age 60 in that probability. Net of individual characteristics, we find significant variation across states in the likelihood of physical health circumstances. For all age groups, physical health circumstances are more likely in states that are less densely populated with weaker gun control laws and higher suicide rates. Among decedents younger than 65, the likelihood is elevated in states with limited health care access. This study highlights the critical interaction between physical and mental well-being, the ways in which that interaction may be experienced differently by gender, and the important role of social safety nets in prevention.