Arthritis Linked to Greater Risk of Attempted Suicide

People who suffer from arthritis are 46 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those without the disease, according to a new study at the University of Toronto.

On average, one in every 26 men with arthritis has attempted suicide compared to one in 50 men without arthritis. Approximately one in 20 women with arthritis have attempted suicide (5.3 percent) compared to about three in 100 women without arthritis (3.2 percent).

The risk is even worse — over three times greater — among arthritis patients with a history of sexual abuse or who had witnessed chronic parental violence.

“When we focused on adults with arthritis, we found that those who had experienced chronic parental domestic violence or sexual abuse during their childhood, had more than three times the odds of suicide attempts compared to adults with arthritis who had not experienced these childhood adversities,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work & Institute for Life Course & Aging.

“The magnitude of these associations with suicide attempts was comparable to that associated with depression, the most well-known risk factor for suicide attempts.”

The findings are published online in the journal Rheumatology International.

“Other factors associated with suicide attempts among those with arthritis include a history of drug or alcohol dependence and/or anxiety disorders,” reported co-author Natasha Ramzan, a recent MSW graduate of the University of Toronto. “In addition, those with arthritis who were younger, poorer, and less educated also had higher odds of suicide attempts.”

For the study, the researchers looked at factors associated with ever having attempted suicide in a nationally representative sample of 4,885 Canadians with arthritis and 16,859 adults without arthritis. The data was taken from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

Co-author and doctoral student, Stephanie Baird, cautions that “due to the cross-sectional nature of this survey we cannot establish causality. We do not know when the arthritis began nor when the suicide attempts occurred.”

“It is possible that other factors that were not available in the survey may confound the relationship. For example, childhood poverty, has been strongly linked to both the development of arthritis and suicide risk,” said Baird.

The researchers also note that the findings need to be confirmed by others using prospective data before any public health recommendations can be made. However, if confirmed, the study findings will have significant clinical implications for health care workers treating patients with arthritis, particularly with those who have suffered from childhood adversities or have a history of mental illness and substance abuse.

Source: University of Toronto