Suicide Risk High Many Years After First Attempt
Fri Nov 15,10:31 AM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The risk for suicide runs high for those who have previously attempted to kill themselves, even decades after their initial attempt, British researchers suggest.



Previous research has shown that the rate of suicide for people who have attempted suicide is 100 times higher in the year following the episode than that of the general population, according to a report published in the November 16th issue of the British Medical Journal. But the long-term suicide risk for these individuals has been unclear.


To investigate, lead author Dr. Gary R. Jenkins of the East Ham Memorial Hospital in London and colleagues followed 140 men and woman over a 22-year period who had previously attempted suicide. During that time three committed suicide and another nine deaths were deemed probable suicide, according to the report.


The investigators calculated that for people who attempted suicide, the rate of suicide plus probable suicide 15 and 20 years later remained high at roughly 7 suicides or probable suicides per 1,000 people per year, very close to the rate during the first 5 years.


"The rate did not decline with time," the authors write.


"Previous deliberate self harm remains a potent risk factor for subsequent suicide, even if it occurred many years ago," Jenkins and colleagues conclude.


Commenting on the study, Dr. Bo S. Runeson writes that in relation to the current study, "there is good reason to point at previous acts of suicidal behavior as the most reliable issue to penetrate in the clinical interview.


"To pay attention to previous (suicide attempts) in the assessment of the patient in the emergency department is crucial, because it may indicate a serious risk even if the act was committed several years ago," Runeson concludes.


SOURCE: British Medical Journal 2002;325:1125-1126,1155.