Thursday, February 27, 2014

Suicide Attempts Early in Life Signal Long-Term Social, Health Problems, Study Finds

Young people who attempt suicide are not only more likely to have persistent psychiatric problems as they approach midlife than nonattempters, but they are also more likely to have physical health problems, engage in violence, and need more social supports as they age. These are key findings from a study by led by Sidra Goldman-Mellor, Ph.D., and colleagues at Duke University and several other institutions and reported in JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers followed a birth cohort that comprised 91 young suicide attempters and 946 nonattempters, 95% of whom were followed to age 38. Study members were all individuals born from April 1972 to March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand, participants in a longitudinal study of health and behavior in a complete birth cohort. They were assessed at ages 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 with structured interviews to determine incidents of self-harm and suicidal behavior, as well as physical health and social factors. Young attempters were classified as those who made an attempt prior to age 25.

Researchers found that young suicide attempters were twice as likely to have persistent episodes of major depression and substance dependence than nonattempters, and 20% made additional suicide attempts from ages 26 to 38. They were also significantly more likely to commit violence against others, including in intimate relationships. The young attempters were "in significantly worse physical health as they approached midlife." In particular, they were more likely to meet criteria for the metabolic syndrome, have higher levels of biomarkers of systemic inflammation, and to sustain more unintentional injuries. They did caution, however, that they "did not assume that suicide attempts are a cause of these outcomes" but rather are an "early warning signal for persistent vulnerability to poor outcomes." They point out that with suicidal behavior on the increase in the U.S. and other developed nations since the global recession began in 2007, their data highlight the need for "additional suicide prevention efforts and long-term monitoring and aftercare services."

To read about efforts to prevent suicides, see the Psychiatric News articles, "Kennedy Makes Suicide Concerns Focus of National Tour," and "Advocates, Federal Officials Vow Enhanced Suicide-Prevention Efforts."

(image: zurijeta/


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