Attempted suicide in the young related to dramatically reduced life expectancy

[PRESS RELEASE 2017-12-14] People who have been treated for attempted suicide or suicidal behaviour have a much shorter life expectancy and usually die of non-suicide-related causes, a new study from Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University in Sweden published in the scientific journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica reports.

“Suicide is, of course, very common in this vulnerable patient group, but a deeper analysis shows that the excess mortality is largely attributable to non-psychiatric diseases,” explains Jussi Jokinen, psychiatrist and professor at Umeå University and researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience. “We also found significant gender differences in life expectancy, especially in the younger patients.”

The researchers studied over 185,000 individuals in care for self-harming behaviour between 1970 and 2010. Their results show that 20-year-old men, after their first attempted suicide, had a remaining life expectancy that was a full 18 years shorter than the rest of the population; the corresponding figure for women was 11 years. For 50-year-olds who had made their first suicide attempt, the reduction in life expectancy for men and women was 10 and 8 years respectively. If the first suicide attempt was not made until the individual’s 70s, the reduction in remaining life expectancy was about 4 years for both sexes.

By way of comparison, in Sweden in 2016, newborns have a life expectancy of 80.6 years (boys) and 84.1 years (girls). 50-year-olds have a remaining life expectancy of 31.9 years (men) and 34.9 years (women).

The study shows that actual suicide caused a smaller proportion of deaths in those who had been admitted into care for attempted suicide or self-harming behaviour. A more common cause of death was disease.

“Our results reveal a lack of equal treatment whereby psychiatric patients don’t seem to receive the care they need,” says principal investigator Dr Rickard Ljung, docent at Karolinska Institutet’s Institute of Environmental Medicine. “Our previous research has shown that psychiatric patients receive poorer treatment for their non-psychiatric disorders and diseases.”

The study was financed by the Swedish Society of Medicine’s Söderström-König Foundation.

Publication: “Life expectancy after the first suicide attempt”, Jussi Jokinen, Mats Talbäck, Maria Feychting, Anders Ahlbom & Rickard Ljung. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, online 14 December 2017.

For more information, please contact:
Rickard Ljung, docent, physician
Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet
Phone: +46 705 13 30 71
Email: rickard.ljung@ki.se

Jussi Jokinen, professor, chief physician
Department of Clinical Sciences, Umeå University
Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet
Phone: +46 73 642 14 46
Email: jussi.jokinen@umu.se

Karolinska Institutet is one of the world’s leading medical universities. Its vision is to significantly contribute to the improvement of human health. Karolinska Institutet accounts for the single largest share of all academic medical research conducted in Sweden and offers the country’s broadest range of education in medicine and health sciences. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet selects the Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine.

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Our results reveal a lack of equal treatment whereby psychiatric patients don’t seem to receive the care they need
Rickard Ljung