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Suicide rate for people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders 170 times higher than the general population

June 18, 2020 Toronto

Study identifies key risk factors

The suicide rate for people with schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) is 170 times higher than the general population according a study just published in the journal Schizophrenia Research, a figure the authors call “tragically high.”

The study of 20-years of population data, believed to be the largest of its kind, examined statistics on over 75,000 patients who received a first diagnosis of SSD. On average, each patient was followed for almost ten years. The study found several key factors that were predictors of suicide including:

  • During the first five years after an individual has been diagnosed with SSD
  • If there was evidence of a mood disorder or hospitalization prior to diagnosis
  • If the individual was diagnosed with SSD at a later age

“What this study teaches us is that although people with SSD are at higher risk for suicide, we can target those at the highest risk with changes in policy and treatment,” said lead author Dr. Juveria Zaheer, clinician scientist at the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

The overall rate of suicide for people with SSD was 1.71 %, or 171 per 10,000 people, compared to approximately 1 per 10,000 people in the general population.

“In the past clinicians have focused on treating the psychosis itself when it first appears,” said senior author Dr. Paul Kurdyak, director, Health Outcomes and Performance Evaluation, CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and clinician scientist at ICES. “This study shows that treatment has to include suicide prevention safety planning as well from the very beginning.”

The authors suggest increasing the age limit for admission to first episode psychosis programs (most are closed to people over 30) and increasing the length of clinical follow-up care after a first episode of psychosis.

“Now that we know what is happening, we need to better understand why,” said Dr. Zaheer. “Our next step will be to study the lived experience of people with SSD who have had suicidal ideation.”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centres in its field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit www.camh.ca

ICES is an independent, non-profit research institute that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of health care issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting health care needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. In October 2018, the institute formerly known as the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences formally adopted the initialism ICES as its official name. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario

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