BACKGROUND: We aimed to elucidate early antecedents of suicide including possible mediation by early child development.
METHOD: Using the 1958 birth cohort, based on British births in March 1958, individuals were followed up to adulthood. We used data collected at birth and at age 7 years from various informants. Suicides occurring up to 31 May 2009 were identified from linked national death certificates. Multivariable Cox proportional hazard models were used to investigate risk factors.
RESULTS: Altogether 12399 participants (n = 44 suicides) had complete data. The strongest prenatal risk factors for suicide were: birth order, with risk increasing in later-born children [p trend = 0.063, adjusted hazard ratio (HR)], e.g. for fourth- or later-born children [HR = 2.27, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.90-5.75]; young maternal age (HR = 1.18, 95% CI 0.34-4.13 for ⩽19 years and HR = 0.41, 95% CI 0.19-0.91 for >29 years, p trend = 0.034); and low (<2.5 kg) birth weight (HR = 2.48, 95% CI 1.03-5.95). The strongest risk factors at 7 years were externalizing problems in males (HR = 2.96, 95% CI 1.03-8.47, p trend = 0.050) and number of emotional adversities (i.e. parental death, neglected appearance, domestic tension, institutional care, contact with social services, parental divorce/separation and bullying) for which there was a graded association with risk of suicide (p trend = 0.033); the highest (HR = 3.12, 95% CI 1.01-9.62) was for persons with three or more adversities.
CONCLUSIONS: Risk factors recorded at birth and at 7 years may influence an individual's long-term risk of suicide, suggesting that trajectories leading to suicide have roots in early life. Some factors are amenable to intervention, but for others a better understanding of causal mechanisms may provide new insights for intervention to reduce suicide risk.