Young People with Chronic Illness Three Times More Likely to Attempt Suicide

Teenagers and young adults living with a chronic illness, such as asthma, diabetes, or Crohn’s disease, may be at greater risk for mental illness and are about three times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their healthy peers, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

“Having a chronic illness may increase the risk for the development of psychiatric disorder, which in turn, increases risk for suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts,” said researcher Mark Ferro, a professor in Waterloo’s Faculty of Applied Health Sciences.

“Having both a chronic illness and psychiatric disorder has a compounding effect, further increasing the odds of suicidal thoughts.”

The findings show that in young people between the ages of 15 and 30, having a chronic illness increases a young person’s odds of attempting suicide by 363 percent, increase suicidal thoughts by 28 percent and increase plans to die by suicide by 134 percent.

The researchers also found that the risk for suicide attempt is highest just after diagnosis of a chronic illness and emphasize the need for prevention and intervention measures during this vital time.

“Evidence suggests risk for suicide attempts is highest soon after young people are diagnosed with a chronic illness. There is a critical window of opportunity for prevention and continued monitoring,” said Ferro.

In addition, young people living with a chronic illness are more likely to suffer from a mental illness which may contribute to thoughts of suicide.

The findings suggest the need for physicians and other health-care providers to consider the link between chronic illness and mental health disorders, and to put in place the appropriate preventive interventions, said Ferro.

“For many young people with chronic conditions, their physical illnesses take precedence in doctor’s visits leaving little, if any, time for mental health concerns,” said Ferro. “While the idea that there is no health without mental health is becoming more pervasive, we still have a long way to go.”

Suicide is a major public health concern and one of the leading causes of death in the United States. In fact, it is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults among people aged 25 to 34 and the third-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24.

The new findings are published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Source: University of Waterloo