Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States and a growing body of scientific literature suggests that chronic pain is associated with suicidal ideation, attempts, and mortality. However, there have been limited data on the extent to which specific pain conditions might be linked to suicides. New research suggests that back pain, migraine, and psychogenic pain may be of greatest concern.
In this new study, Mark A. Ilgen, PhD — of the U.S. Veterans Affairs (VA) Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan — and colleagues examined associations between clinical diagnoses of chronic noncancer pain conditions and suicide in a very large population of patients served by the VA Healthcare System (Ilgen et al. 2013). The researchers retrospectively identified 4,863,036 individuals who received services in fiscal year 2005 and were alive at the start of fiscal year 2006.
During a 3-year followup period (spanning fiscal years 2006-2008), there were 2,838 suicides in patients with pain conditions. The data were examined for associations between baseline clinical diagnoses of arthritis, back pain, migraine, neuropathy, headache or tension headache, fibromyalgia, and psychogenic pain and subsequent suicide death recorded in the National Death Index. At baseline, 92% of the patients were male and the vast majority (81%) were aged 50 years or older — more than a third (38%) were older than 70 years of age.
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