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Increased risk of attempted suicide in patients with arthritis

Two people sitting with backs to each otherA new study from the University of Toronto found that people living with arthritis are 46 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those living without arthritis.

In the study, researchers looked at factors associated with ever having attempted suicide in a sample of 4,885 patients with arthritis across Canada and 16,859 patients without arthritis. All the data were collected from the 2012 Canadian Health Survey-Mental Health. The research found that:

  • One in every 26 men with arthritis has attempted suicide compare to one in 50 men without arthritis
  • An estimate of one in 20 women with arthritis has attempted suicide compared to an estimate of three in 100 women without arthritis
  • The risk of attempted suicide increases three-folds in patients with a history of sexual abuse and those who witnessed chronic parental domestic violence

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

It is also important to note that the most well-known risk factors for suicide attempts is depression. Previous research have shown that people with rheumatoid arthritis are twice as likely as the rest of the population to experience depression. There are several reasons depression can occur in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes it starts from the shock of diagnosis and finding out that it is an unpredictable disease that can become more painful and debilitating over time. Sometimes depression occurs because of feeling tired and unwell or isolated as a result of the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the ability to work, look after family, and engage in social activities and interests. The stress that results from either of these situations can trigger depression in those who are predisposed by heredity or other factors.

Co-author and doctoral student, Stephanie Baird, cautions that due to the cross-sectional nature of the survey, they were unable to establish causality – there was no way to determine when the arthritis began or when the suicide attempts occurred. Other factors could also affect the outcomes of the study, including childhood poverty, which has been linked to both the development of arthritis and suicide risk. Further research needs to be conducted before any public health recommendations can be made.

Potentially, the study can have clinical implications for healthcare workers treating patients with arthritis who lives with childhood adversities or have a history of mental illness and substance abuse.