Coffee and Suicide

(Photo: Timothy Boyd)

In our hour-long podcast “The Suicide Paradox,” we explored some of the facts and myths about suicide. A new Harvard study highlights another interesting fact: coffee drinkers have a lower risk of suicide. From Time:

According to a study performed by the Harvard School of Public Health and published this month in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, people who drink two to four cups of java each day are less likely to commit suicide than those who don’t drink coffee, drink decaf, or drink fewer than two cups each day. The study followed over 200,000 people for at least 16 years. And it’s not just a weak link: the researchers found that the suicide risk was cut by around 50 percent for caffeine fiends.

The study doesn’t establish causation, but lead researcher Michel Lucas confirmed in a statement that it’s definitely caffeine, which previous research indicates may act as a mild antidepressant, that’s driving the results.  “Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee,” he says.

Kim Gilmore

Well, since I drink a pot a day, I must be in the low risk category! haha

Tom Horne

Hmmm... rather than a direct link, doesn't it seem more likely to be a third thing correlated to both? People who are drinking several cups of coffee a day likely have things to get done, need to stay awake/alert to do it, and consequently have some pretty good reasons to live already.


Or is it that people with certain pre-cursors to suicide (anxiety, depression etc) don't react well to caffeine (it does increases anxiety symptoms) and therefore avoid it.


Did they control for wealth and employment? If you're drinking 4 cups of coffee each day, you probably work full-time and have free coffee in the office.


Not necessarily. If you make your own, and eschew the fancy stuff (as with wine, I can't tell the difference), coffee is not at all expensive. I'd say a $7-8 can lasts me a couple of months, at about 3 cups/day.


^To all above^ This was a study of 200,000 people over 16 years...I'm sure they considered all factors.


what if coffee drinkers invite more friends to share table,?
.chat,.relax,.discuss some problems,.find at least an "I wish you solve that difficult problem",..and "Im with you".
could be interesting to study statistics among moviegoers,and pop corn fans!

juan carlos.

Eric M. Jones

Years and years ago a friend introduced me to the thrill of fresh-frozen green coffee beans. You grind them up and just swallow a spoonful. They taste like crap but work like the Krell brain-booster.

Just another high-times tip from your Uncle Eric. Enjoy!


"lead researcher Michel Lucas confirmed in a statement that it’s definitely caffeine, which previous research indicates may act as a mild antidepressant, that’s driving the results" -- so then the headline is misleading, as the effect would be as much for typical English cuppa as well, no? eg


A couple of thoughts (some of which have already be expressed here):
1.) I am, personally, someone who drinks boatloads of coffee. I do so because I am a full-time student who works full-time. When I think of extreme coffee-drinkers, I think of med students, primarily, followed by bleary-eyed office workers, workaholics, grinds. If you drink a cup or two a day, you probably just enjoy coffee, but if you're drinking coffee every few hours, you have a real reason. There's immense pressure in your life somewhere, and stress-junkies aren't necessarily mentally healthier than the general population, but they have purpose. I read a really interesting article recently about how people who have meaning in their life, but not happiness, are healthier and live longer than people who are happy, but have no meaning. Coffee = work in my brain at least.
2.) People who drink coffee are more likely to live in the city. They're also more likely to live in the northwest, like me. Portland, Seattle, San Fran, etc.
3.) Studies show that coffee-drinkers have higher levels of cortisol (stress hormones). This isn't only because they have stressful lives, since their cortisol levels spike when they drink coffee.
4.) Coffee drinking is often social; at least it is here in Portland. It seems at least 9/10 times I hang out with a friend, we'll end up at a coffeehouse at some point, even if we didn't intend to meet there. It's just something everyone has in common here.
5.) Extreme coffee drinkers might be more willing to endure hellish situations, since they seem to be almost attracted towards stress.

Overall I think that extreme coffee drinkers cannot possibly be more mentally healthy than individuals who do not drink coffee. There have been so many studies showing that coffee increases stress, and it seems like common sense that anyone who is relying on caffeine that much is under a lot of pressure. I'd be willing to bet that these study participants are not happier, on average, than non-coffee drinkers or casual coffee-drinkers. There's something else going on here.

Thanks for making me think.


John Bailo

Yes, but they are often in danger of having ideas that seem fantastic at 10:30 am which turn out to be impossible to implement at 3:30pm once the espresso wears off.


I would think that suicides would tie far more to excessive depressant usage than stimulant usage. Alcohol and opiates let one withdraw from the worries of the world and relax. Heavy usage of a stimulant like coffee is for those that are up and on the go and have things to do ... such people seem far less of a suicide risk than the those who would just rather sleep through the day.


A very quick glance at their paper (available here for those interested: shows that they did not control for work status or activities (other than physical activities), which could be pretty important. Certainly, I think, the argument made by Tom Horne (in the comments) makes sense. If I had a job, I might need to stay awake to do my job, and at the same time, the job provides meaning in life, which means that I won't really feel depressed or feel the need to kill myself.


A lot of the factors which enable and lead people to drink coffee in the first place are also linked to lower suicide risk - for example: money, having to get up early because you have a job, engaging in social activities, etc. This partially explain the correlation.


The study only looked up to ">= 4 cups/day". An earlier study Tanskanen (2000) looked up to the variable ">=8 cups/day" and found a J-shaped effect- e.g. coffee lowers your risk to a point- and the extreme 8+ drinkers have a much higher risk of suicide (They found 58% higher risk than non-drinkers) Whatever the case, I think caffeine is vastly underrated in it's powerful effects on the brain.

Alert & happy

Can this 'link' not be proven by the fact that those who choose to drink decaf coffee are always expecting the adrenaline rush or buzz that coffee provides. In the absence of coffee's true effects, their lives are flat, on one level and grey.