Risk Of Suicide Is Higher During First Year After Self Harm

According to latest scientific research, adults who manage to survive intentional self-injury are at a higher risk of suicide in the first year after such an incident. This discovery points to the fact there is a dire need for follow up care as a technique to prevent suicide.

The research was carried out by scientists from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), New York State Psychiatric Institute. In their study, the scientists discovered that suicide risk was greatest the month after a person’s first suicide/self-harm attempt, using a firearm.

Professor of psychiatry at CUMC and study’s senior author Dr. Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, said regarding the findings, “This study supports our hypothesis that use of a firearm or other violent self-harm methods greatly increases the risk of suicide, especially in the short term.” The results of the study were published in American Journal of Psychiatry.

The scientists used data gathered between 2001 to 2007, from 45 states, on more than 61000 patients who were diagnosed as suicidal and had caused self-harm. They then went on to extrapolate the data and associate it with the National Death Index, which provides data regarding cause of death and dates of death.

Apart from the obvious records of their self-injury, the researchers also assessed other factors such as recent treatment for common mental health issues, personal characteristics and demographics, method of injury and self-harm/suicide attempt, and setting where the suicide attempt took place.

The scientists particularly looked for the link between firearm use and suicide attempt, which led to some pretty fascinating observations. According to their findings, suicides caused by guns are eight times higher in the US compared to other countries.

Almost 20% of the individuals observed in the study, followed through with carrying further physical but non-fatal self-harm in the follow up period. Most of these individuals were older, Caucasian and had been recently treated for mental disorders such as alcoholism or depression.

What was even more shocking was the fact that these individuals were 37 times more likely to commit suicide after one year had passed of their last self-harm episode, in comparison to the general population.

In this group of individuals, older, white adults had three times risk of committing suicide compared to younger, nonwhite adults, while males were had  twice the risk to follow through with suicide than females.

The statistics showed that around 75% of the initial self-injury episodes were caused via violent methods, while around half (more than 40%) were caused by guns.

Moreover, suicidal risk was estimated 10 times higher during the first month after the last self-injury episode using a violent method compared with the following 11 months.

Olfson added, “The patterns seen in this study suggest that clinical efforts should focus on ensuring the safety of individuals who survive deliberate self-harm during the first few months after such attempts—particularly when a violent method such as a firearm has been used.”

Olfson was quite adamant that proper follow up care was required to supervise and assist patients at risk of suicide.

Olfson said, “For these patients, clinicians should strongly consider inpatient admission, intensive supervision, and interventions targeting underlying mental disorders to reduce suicide risk. In addition, clinicians can encourage family members to install trigger locks or temporarily store firearms outside the patient’s home.”

Previously, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) recommended limiting availability of firearms as a way to curb suicide attempts.

The researchers asked for stricter regulation and pleaded public health and legislation policymakers to create guidelines putting a halt to firearm suicide rate. They focused, in their study, to make use of smart gun technology and ensure public education for safe firearm ownership in the US.

These steps are quite welcomed since not only they help put family members of at-risk individuals at ease, but also safeguard the public from mass shootings, since most depressed or schizophrenic individuals act as lone wolfs in public shootings and acts of terrorism.

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