Study finds higher suicide rate among people with neurological disorders

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Neurological disorders may impact one’s mental health, a new study says as researchers found that there is a higher rate of suicide among individuals living with neurological disorders.

A team of researchers in Denmark aims to examine whether people living with neurological disorders die by suicide more often than others. Neurological disorders have long been tied to suicide, but the risk is still unclear.

The study, published in JAMA, shows that people with neurological disorders have a 75 percent higher rate of suicide compared to their counterparts. For the general population, the suicide rate is 20 per 100,000 people, but for those with neurological disorders, the rate is about 40 per 100,000 person-years.

Based on the data spanning for 37 years in Denmark, the study shows the link between neurological disorders and suicide.

The disorders included in the study are stroke, head injury, polyneuropathy, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and diseases of the myoneural junction. Other diseases include central nervous system infections, meningitis, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Huntington disease, intellectual disability, encephalitis, and central nervous system infections.

Image Credit: Kotcha K / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Kotcha K / Shutterstock

Higher suicide rates

Further findings showed that one out of 150 people diagnosed with any of these disabilities dies by suicide. For severe neurological disorders, such as Huntington’s disease, one out of 61 with the condition died by suicide.

People with ALS and Huntington’s disease, which are considered severe, had higher risks of dying by suicide, with rates 4 to 5 times higher than the general population.

For people with traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, or multiple sclerosis, had twice the suicide rate of those with no neurological disorders.

“There may be several and co-existing explanations for the excess suicide rate. People may have difficulties understanding and coming to terms with the consequences of a newly diagnosed chronical disorder. In addition, mental disorders as well as social and relationship factors may play a role,” Dr. Elsebeth Stenager, a professor in social psychiatry at the University of Southern Denmark, said.

The researchers also believe that undiagnosed neurological disorders may contribute to a higher risk of suicide. The increased risk may appear in various stages of disease development. For instance, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia have 2 to 3 times higher suicide rates during the first three months after diagnosis. Those who were diagnosed with dementia a year ago had lower suicide rates.

“In Denmark between 1980 and 2016, there was a significantly higher rate of suicide among those with a diagnosed neurological disorder than persons not diagnosed with a neurological disorder. However, the absolute risk difference was small,” the researchers concluded in the study.

Study implications

With the new data, it has been shown that neurological disorders may increase the risk of suicide. It’s important to impose preventive measures by helping the patients undergo therapy and counseling, especially discussing their experiences while having the disorder.

The study has many limitations, such as those individuals who were diagnosed before 1977 were not included in the study, primary care diagnoses were not included, and some suicide deaths that were under-recorded or not recorded at all.

The research team believes that the study will help build a basis for future studies to determine how these risk factors to be addressed. It’s important to identify which disorders can be addressed with preventive measures.

Suicide is becoming a global problem, affecting people from all walks of life. It’s important to determine the common causes and triggers of suicide to properly address them and prevent deaths.

Journal reference:

Erlangsen A, Stenager E, Conwell Y, et al. Association Between Neurological Disorders and Death by Suicide in Denmark. JAMA. 2020;323(5):444–454. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.21834

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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