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Suicide rate for people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders 170 times higher

The authors suggest increasing the age limit for admission to first episode psychosis programs (most are closed to people over 30) and increasing the length of clinical follow-up care after a first episode of psychosis.

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco from Unsplash.com

The suicide rate for people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) is 170 times higher than the general population, according a study just published in the journal Schizophrenia Research, a figure the authors call “tragically high.”

The study of 20-years of population data, believed to be the largest of its kind ever done, examined statistics on over 75,000 patients who received a first diagnosis of SSD. On average, each patient was followed for almost ten years. The study found several key factors that were predictors of suicide including:

  • During the first five years after an individual has been diagnosed with SSD
  • If there was evidence of a mood disorder or hospitalization prior to diagnosis
  • If the individual was diagnosed with SSD at a later age

“What this study teaches is us that although people with SSD are at higher risk for suicide, we can target those at the highest risk with changes in policy and treatment,” said lead author Dr. Juveria Zaheer, Clinician Scientist at the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

“In the past clinicians have focused on treating the psychosis itself when it first appears,” said senior author Dr. Paul Kurdyak, Director, Health Outcomes and Performance Evaluation, CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and Clinician Scientist at ICES. “This study shows that treatment has to include suicide prevention safety planning as well from the very beginning.”

The authors suggest increasing the age limit for admission to first episode psychosis programs (most are closed to people over 30) and increasing the length of clinical follow-up care after a first episode of psychosis.

“Now that we know what is happening, we need to better understand why,” said Dr. Zaheer. “Our next step will be to study the lived experience of people with SSD who have had suicidal ideation.”

Suicide – by itself – is a big issue in the LGBTQIA community.

In 2018, for instance, a study found that almost 14% of adolescents reported a previous suicide attempt, with disparities by gender identity in suicide attempts. Female to male adolescents reported the highest rate of attempted suicide (50.8%), followed by adolescents who identified as not exclusively male or female (41.8%).

Still in 2018, another study found that 50.8% of transmasculine adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19 have attempted suicide at least once, while 41.8% of nonbinary adolescents – those who don’t identify as exclusively male or exclusively female – have attempted suicide.

And in June 2020, yet another study noted that death records of LGBTQ youth who died by suicide were substantially more likely to mention bullying as a factor than their non-LGBTQ peers.

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