Rates of suicidal behavior are increasing in the United States and identifying causal risk factors continues to be a public health priority. Observational literature has shown that educational attainment (EA) and cognitive performance (CP) influence suicide attempt risk; however, the causal nature of these relationships is unknown. Using summary statistics from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of EA, CP, and suicide attempt risk with > 815,000 combined white participants of European ancestry, we performed multivariable Mendelian randomization (MR) to disentangle the effects of EA and CP on attempted suicide. In single-variable MR (SVMR), EA and CP appeared to reduce suicide attempt risk (EA odds ratio (OR) per standard deviation (SD) increase in EA (4.2 years), 0.524, 95% CI, 0.412–0.666, P = 1.07 × 10−7; CP OR per SD increase in standardized score, 0.714, 95% CI, 0.577–0.885, P = 0.002). Conversely, bidirectional analyses found no effect of a suicide attempt on EA or CP. Using various multivariable MR (MVMR) models, EA seems to be the predominant risk factor for suicide attempt risk with the independent effect (OR, 0.342, 95% CI, 0.206–0.568, P = 1.61 × 10−4), while CP had no effect (OR, 1.182, 95% CI, 0.842–1.659, P = 0.333). In additional MVMR analyses accounting simultaneously for potential behavioral and psychiatric mediators (tobacco smoking; alcohol consumption; and self-reported nerves, tension, anxiety, or depression), the effect of EA was little changed (OR, 0.541, 95% CI, 0.421–0.696, P = 3.33 × 10−6). Consistency of results across complementary MR methods accommodating different assumptions about genetic pleiotropy strengthened causal inference. Our results show that even after accounting for psychiatric disorders and behavioral mediators, EA, but not CP, may causally influence suicide attempt risk among white individuals of European ancestry, which could have important implications for health policy and programs aimed at reducing the increasing rates of suicide. Future work is necessary to examine the EA–suicide relationship populations of different ethnicities.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry