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Childhood cognitive skills trajectories and suicide by mid-adulthood: an investigation of the 1958 British Birth Cohort

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Stéphane Richard-Devantoy
  • Massimiliano Orri
  • Josie-Anne Bertrand
  • Kyle. T Greenway
  • Gustavo Turecki
  • David Gunnell
  • Chris Power
  • Marie-Claude Geoffroy
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date18 Nov 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 15 Oct 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 18 Nov 2019


Poor cognitive abilities and low IQ are associated with an increased risk of suicide attempts and suicide mortality. However, knowledge of how this association develops across the life-course is limited. Our study aims to establish whether individuals who died by suicide by mid-adulthood are distinguishable by their child-to-adolescence cognitive trajectories.

Participants were from the 1958 British Birth Cohort and were assessed for academic performance at ages 7, 11, and 16 and intelligence at 11 years. Suicides occurring by September 2012 were identified from linked national death certificates. We compared mean mathematics and reading abilities and rate of change across 7 to 16 years for individuals who died by suicide versus those still alive, with and without adjustment for potential early-life confounding factors. Analyses were based on 14,505 participants.

Fifty-five participants (48 males) had died by suicide by age 54 years. While males who died by suicide did not differ from participants still alive in reading scores at age 7 (effect size [g]=-0.04, p=0.759), their reading scores had a less steep improvement up to age 16 compared to other particpants. Adjustments for early-life confounding factors explained these differences. A similar pattern was observed for mathematics scores. There was no difference between individuals who died by suicide versus participants still alive on intelligence at 11 years.

While no differences in tests of academic performance and IQ were observed, individuals who died by suicide had a less steep improvement in reading abilities over time compared to same-age peers.

    Research areas

  • Suicide, Cognitive Abilities, Cognition, Academic Performance, Intelligence, Reading, Mathematics, Early-life influences, Longitudinal study, Birth cohort, Cohort Studies



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    Embargo ends: 18/05/20

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