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Asthma, Difficulty Breathing Increase Suicide Risk

According to two recently published studies, difficulty breathing seems to increase the rate of suicide.

Young adults with asthma may be at an increased risk for suicide, and the suicide rate in the general population increases when air pollution worsens.

Dr. Chian-Jue Kuo of the National Taiwan University and his team of researchers released results this week showing that teens with asthma are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as teens without the diagnosis.

In a separate study, Dr. Changsoo Kim, of the Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul and his colleagues found an increase in the rate of suicide during and immediately after periods of heavier air pollution.

Asthma is a medical condition in which patients have trouble breathing because the airways become swollen and narrowed, making it difficult for air to move.  More than 34 million Americans have the diagnosis, and one in ten children suffers from asthma.   In 2005, more than 3,000 deaths from asthma occurred in the United States, and the number of younger people with asthma is on the rise.

Kuo and his colleagues studied 162,766 teens aged 11 to 16 in Taiwan, and they or their parents completed questionnaires in 1996 to determine if asthma was currently present, or if there was a history of asthma.  The participants were followed for over 10 years and records were linked to the national Death Certification System.

Kuo found that while there was no increase in the rate of death from natural causes in the teens with asthma, the rate of suicide was increased in those with a history of the diagnosis and more than double in the teens with a current diagnosis of asthma.

The more severe the asthma, the greater the likelihood of suicide; the findings were consistent even after statistical adjustment for the absence or presence of psychiatric illness.

In a separate study, Dr. Kim and his colleagues measured air pollution at 106 sites in seven cities across Korea during 2004 by measuring particulate matter present in the air.   Using the records from all 4,341 reported suicide cases in the seven cities during that time, they analyzed the level of air pollution during the days immediately preceding the cases.

When air pollution transiently increased, Kim found that there was a nine percent increase in the suicide rate.  When other medical illnesses were considered as well, they found that the suicide rate increased 18.9 percent for individuals with cardiovascular disease up to two days immediately following a more heavily polluted day.

The exact nature of the relationship between physical and mental health is not entirely clear. For example, does poor physical health worsen depression, or do mental health problems precipitate medical illness, or both?  These results are important in revealing another link between physical and mental health, and a potential risk factor for suicide in adolescents.

The association between air pollution and suicide is intriguing, and further research may help to clarify the meaning of the relationship.

“Suicide is a relatively rare but tragic outcome, and associations with asthma might well reflect more common levels of mental distress,” writes Kuo. “School staff, clinical staff, and family members should be reminded of the need for awareness of, and prevention measures to improve, mental health in young people, particularly those with more severe and persistent asthma symptoms.”

Both studies appear in the July 15 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Source:  American Journal of Psychiatry

Asthma, Difficulty Breathing Increase Suicide Risk

Jessica Ward Jones, MD, MPH

APA Reference
Jones, J. (2018). Asthma, Difficulty Breathing Increase Suicide Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 17 Jul 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.