Chronic Illness in Young People Linked to Higher Attempted Suicide Rates, Study Shows

Chronic Illness in Young People Linked to Higher Attempted Suicide Rates, Study Shows

Young people between 15 and 30 years of age who live with a chronic illness, such as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), were found to be three times more likely to attempt suicide than their healthy peers, according to a new study conducted at the University of Waterloo.

Titled “Suicidal Behaviour among Adolescents and Young Adults with Self-Reported Chronic Illness,” the study was published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

According to Statistics Canada, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people of all ages. In 2009, it was the ninth leading cause of death in Canada. However, among those aged 15 to 34, suicide was the second leading cause of death, preceded only by unintentional accidents.

Findings of this study suggest that, besides age, chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or Crohn’s disease also increase a young person’s odds of suicidal thoughts by 28 percent, and plans to die by suicide by 134 percent. In total, having a chronic condition was found to increase the odds of a suicide attempt by 363 percent.

“Evidence suggests risk for suicide attempts is highest soon after young people are diagnosed with a chronic illness,” Mark Ferro, a professor in Waterloo’s Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, said in a press release. “There is a critical window of opportunity for prevention and continued monitoring.”

Chronic illness was also found to be linked to mental illness, researchers said.

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

The study reinforces the idea that healthcare providers need to consider the link between chronic illness and psychiatric disorders to implement appropriate preventive interventions. Conclusions of this research include the indication that healthcare professionals should pay attention to any suicidal thoughts and behavior during routine assessments of their teen and young adult patients.

“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,” Ferro said. “While the idea that there is no health without mental health is becoming more pervasive, we still have a long way to go.”

In a column written for IBD News Today, Mary Horsley shares how chronic illness (in her case, Crohn’s) affects her mental health.

Horsley describes how not being able to do things or attend events where friends have invited you can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or hypervigilance. Any of these may arise from each personal struggle.

She shares how each invasive procedure, each ‘accident,’ each medication change, each flare-up affects people with a chronic illness – they can all make you feel hypervigilant, worried all the time, anxious that others will notice something. And eventually, these mental symptoms may even make you want to take your life.

Like other IBD ‘warriors’, Horsley too is anxious and scared that her physical status is affecting her mental health, but for her, “It Could be Worse.”