Study Determines Neurology Patients Have Elevated Suicide Risk

Suicide is, unfortunately, somewhat common these days but people diagnosed with a neurological disorder, the risk could be much higher. 

According to a new, nationwide retrospective analysis, at the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention/Mental Health Centre in Copenhagen, the suicide rate among those with neurological disorders is more than double that of the average person. 

Annette Erlangsen, PhD, comments, “For some neurological disorders, we found a four to five times higher suicide rate when compared with the general population. Still it is important to emphasize that suicide deaths are rare events.”

Specifically, the suicide rates were 44.0 per 100,000 person-years versus 20.1 per 100,000 person years, respectively, over a period of 37 years. Observing other relationships between health and suicide, head injury accounted for 4.5 percent of these suicides with stroke accounting for 3.5 percent and epilepsy accounting for 3.0 percent.  All people included in the study were at least 15 years of age, and slightly more than half were female. 

Of those who died by suicide, 77.4 percent were males and 14.7 percent had been diagnosed with a neurological disorder. 

Erlangsen summarizes that about 1 in 150 people with a neurological disorder died by suicide; and among those with more severe conditions like Huntington’s disease, that number escalated to 1 in 61,  

Effectively, these findings demonstrate the importance of screening for suicide among those with neurological disorders so they can be referred to the appropriate practitioners in time to intervene.  In addition, the study indicated a higher association between the number of hospital contacts and incident/attempts at suicide; and this also makes a strong case for increasing screening opportunities in different settings (like an emergency department, for example). 

This is the most comprehensive analysis of neurological disorders and their relationship to suicide.  Erlangsen notes that other studies exist, but they all investigated less prevalent disorders (including Huntington’s disease, as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and, as such, have been inconclusive on the relationship.  At the same time, population-based studies have linked stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and head injury with suicide (risk). 

Erlangsen concludes, “This study presents a comprehensive overview which will enable the field of suicide prevention to evaluate whether there are specific neurological disorders one should be more attentive towards and specific periods.”