The causal effect of education and cognitive performance on risk for suicide attempt: A combined instrumental variable and co-relative approach in a Swedish national cohort

Séverine Lannoy, Henrik Ohlsson, Kenneth S. Kendler, Jan Sundquist, Kristina Sundquist, Alexis C. Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The aim of this study was to clarify the possible causal associations between education phenotypes and non-fatal suicide attempts. In particular, we evaluated the roles of academic achievement (school grades), cognitive performance (IQ), and educational attainment (education level). Methods: Based on longitudinal Swedish registry data, we included 2,335,763 individuals (48.7% female) with available school grades, 1,448,438 men with IQ measures, and 4,352,989 individuals (48.4% female) with available data on education level. We combined two different approaches to aid in causal inference: 1) instrumental variables analysis, using month of birth as an instrument related to education but not suicide attempt, to control for measured and unmeasured confounders, and 2) co-relative analysis, comparing pairs of different genetic relatedness (cousins, half, and full siblings) to control for genetic and environmental influences. Results: High education was associated with reduced risk of suicide attempt. Instrumental variable analysis indicated evidence of a likely causal association between higher school grades and lower risk of suicide attempts (HR = 0.71). Co-relative analyses supported the causality between the three predictors and suicide attempt risk (school grades, HR = 0.80, IQ, HR = 0.83, education level, HR = 0.76). Finally, we examined the specificity of education phenotypes and found that both cognitive (IQ) and non-cognitive (school grades, education level) processes were involved in suicide attempt risk. Limitations: IQ was only available in men, limiting the generalizability of this analysis in women. Conclusions: Efforts to support causal associations in psychiatric research are needed to offer better intervention. Programs improving education during adolescence would decrease suicide attempt risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-121
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume305
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 May 2022

Keywords

  • Causality
  • Education level
  • IQ
  • School grades
  • Suicide

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