Pain is Linked to Suicidal Thoughts

November 24, 2008
Shivani Parmar, MPH

Study results published in the most recent issue of General Hospital Psychiatry indicate that "patients with chronic pain are more prone than others are to consider suicide. The increased risk remained even when study authors took the possible influence of mental illness into account."

Study results published in the most recent issue of General Hospital Psychiatry indicate that “patients with chronic pain are more prone than others are to consider suicide. The increased risk remained even when study authors took the possible influence of mental illness into account.”

The study reviewed data from a 2001-2003 epidemiological survey of 5,692 US adults in the general population who had completed questions related to chronic pain and thoughts of suicide. Adjusting the data to account for mental illness and chronic physical conditions, scientists discovered that those who “suffered from head pain were almost twice as likely as others to report having suicidal thoughts. They were also more than two times as likely to report suicide attempts.” Additionally, those with pain unrelated to arthritis had a four times greater likelihood of trying to commit suicide. Among those surveyed, “almost 14 percent of those with three or more pain conditions reported suicidal thoughts and almost 6 percent of these individuals reported a suicide attempt.”

Though the majority of the people with any form of pain were not suicidal, lead study author Mark Ilgen, psychologist at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital and professor at the University of Michigan, said that “Pain is one of those factors that may make someone feel more hopeless and less optimistic about the future and increases the chances that they will think about suicide.”

The study concluded that the findings “highlight the importance of pain as a potentially independent risk factor for suicide, particularly among those with head pain or multiple forms of co-occurring pain. Individuals suffering from chronic pain may be particularly appropriate for suicide screening and intervention efforts.”

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