Risk for death by suicide and neurological diseases

A small but significant increase in the risk for death by suicide occurs in the months immediately following diagnosis of specific neurologic disorders, results of a large, population-based study of more than 7 million individuals show.

Patients diagnosed with a severe neurologic disorder were four to five times more likely to die by suicide compared to the general population. This risk was particularly high among those who had been diagnosed with Huntington disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Although suicide remains a rare event, "neurologists might strive to be attentive towards patients who are distressed at time of diagnosis or who present with symptoms of depression," said study investigator Annette Erlangsen, PhD, head of program at the Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Center, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Neurologic diagnoses, including meningitis, polyneuropathy, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, are not associated with suicidal behavior, they add, whereas diagnoses of Alzheimer disease and dementia "might be associated with a lower the risk of suicide, although findings have shown inconsistencies."

Overall, those who had been diagnosed with a neurologic disorder were at significantly higher risk for suicide ― 44.0 per 100,000 person-years, compared to 20.1 per 100,000 person-years among all other residents of Denmark. The adjusted incidence rate was 1.8.

The investigators were intrigued by the finding that people had elevated rates of suicide within the first 3 to 6 months after being diagnosed with dementia, however, the rate of suicide declined over time for this group, and after 3 years, they have a lower suicide rate than the general population.