People who have a history of harming themselves are more than three times as likely to die prematurely as the general population, and not just from the obvious causes, according to new research.
A UK study published in The Lancet examined data from more than 30,000 individuals who were taken to the emergency room for self-poisoning or self-injury between 2000 and 2007.
The researchers found that deaths due to natural causes were at least two times greater than anticipated, while the risk was also much higher for individuals living in socially deprived areas.
According to the researchers, 1,832 patients — or about 6 percent — died during the median six-year course of follow up.
Death from both natural and external causes, such as suicides, accidental poisonings, and accidents other than poisoning, was substantially increased for both men and women, equating to an average of at least 30 years of of potential life lost (YLL) for each individual.
Accidental poisoning was the most common cause of premature death, followed by suicide.
However, the researchers found that deaths due to natural causes were 2 to 7.5 times greater than expected, with diseases of the circulatory system and digestive system — largely alcohol-related — as well as mental and behavioral disorders the largest contributors.
The researchers found that 87 percent of the mental and behavioral factors were tied to psychoactive substance abuse.
The risk of early death from natural causes was closely linked with socioeconomic status, increasing with greater economic deprivation, the researcher also found.
“Our study confirms that the increase in premature death among people who self-harm is not limited to suicide or other external causes, but includes dying prematurely from a wide variety of natural causes such as diseases of the circulatory and digestive systems, which accounted for a third of deaths in our study,” said Dr. Keith Hawton from the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research, who led the study.
“Our findings have significant public health implications, and emphasize the importance of assessing physical health, as well as psychosocial problems, as part of standard checks when individuals present with self-harm.”
Source: The Lancet