Suicide risk after first attempt can linger for years, Canadian docs warn
WATCH: The largest ever suicide risk study points to a change in treatment that could potentially help save lives. Jennifer Palisoc reports.
Canadians doctors say that while suicide prevention efforts typically kick into high gear after someone’s first suicide attempt, long-term monitoring needs to stay in place. That’s because the researchers found that the risk of death following an initial attempt increases.
The new study – coming from a trio of hospitals – is the largest suicide-risk study to date, the scientists say. It tracked the health outcomes of more than 65,000 people – every patient who turned up in an Ontario emergency room for intentional self-poisoning between 2002 and 2010.
The team of researchers out of the Hospital for Sick Children, Sunnybrook Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences warn that the risk of suicide following an attempt via self-poisoning was 42 times higher than in the general population. Even the risk of death from accidents jumps 10 times higher post-suicide attempt.
The 65,700 patients were compared to another 65,000 people with no self-poisoning attempts. After they were discharged from hospital, 4,176 people died – 976 took their own lives. It typically happened within about 1.6 years after the first attempt, the researchers found.
When this group of people eventually died by suicide, they took on more violent methods in their subsequent attempts. Only seven per cent of patients reached hospital alive.
With these grim findings in mind, the researchers say a suicide attempt is a red flag, and an opportunity to zero in on new prevention opportunities that look further ahead.
“The key message is because of the risks of eventual suicide is durable over many years, prevention, initiatives, and efforts should also be prolonged and sustained over many years… once a frontline physician is confronted with such a patient in the emergency department, they should try and start to initiate a follow-up plan for that patient moving forward,” Dr. Yaron Finkelstein, a SickKids staff doctor in paediatric emergency medicine, told Global News. He’s the lead author of the study.
“The hope is that our findings can be used to target this high-risk group and that it may influence suicide-prevention strategies to include long-term follow-up and efforts,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein says that the life trajectories of suicide attempt survivors haven’t been well documented. In Canadians aged 15 to 35, suicide is the second leading cause of death, but prevention efforts with long-lasting impact have been tricky to put together.
The scientists say that their experts across many disciplines are trying to dig deeper so they can help this vulnerable group.
READ MORE: 7 common suicide myths
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, visit suicideprevention.ca for a list of resources.
In case of an emergency, please call 911.
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