Are Migraines and Chronic Pain Linked to Suicide?

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Even if people are not suffering from depression or another psychiatric condition, they still may be at increased risk for suicide if they suffer with chronic migraines or back pain. Doctors who work with affected patients should be aware that patients may face a higher risk of committing suicide, according to a study by the leader of a Veterans Mental Illness Treatment and Evaluation Center.

It is crucial to acknowledge this suicide risk and monitor patients that are susceptible because suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in America.

The study author also states that even though psychiatric factors are important, there may be certain things about the pain that might increase a person’s risk of suicide

Pain Conditions Associated with Increased Risk for Suicide

A wide-ranging study published in JAMA Psychiatry Journal investigated the increased risk of suicide in chronic pain patients. The study involved more than 4.8 million people between 2005 and 2008. The researchers behind the study chose patients registered with the Veteran Health Administration who were suffering with chronic pain and followed them for three years.The team then looked into any links between suicide and clinically diagnosed chronic pain such as headaches or migraines.

Researchers were able to find that, with the exception of arthritis, most pain conditions had some form of connection with an increased risk of suicide. When mental health was taken into consideration, however, the link between suicide was narrowed to three different types of chronic pain: back pain, migraines, and psychogenic pain, all of which can involve psychological factors.

The study reinforced the link between pain and suicide according to a retired army colonel and psychiatrist. She states how obvious it is to have pain as a risk factor for suicide. Suicide usually has other factors involved, but pain tends to be the breaking point. She recommends that therapists who perform suicide risk evaluations need to ask questions that identify the pain a person is feeling and any potential suicidal thoughts.

Psychogenic Pain, Migraines, and Back Pain Pose Greatest Risk

Out of the three pains pinpointed by the study, psychogenic pain increased the risk of suicide the most. Migraines came in second, and back pain third. This is not surprising as psychogenic pain can be caused by both mental and emotional problems.

Psychogenic pain is still not completely understood and it remains a rare condition. Because pain itself is not yet fully understood, patients may undergo treatment without resolution for years or even for their entire lives. For this reason, chronic pain patients commonly experience feelings of frustration and hopelessness, increasing the risk of suicide.

It is important that pain’s psychological repercussions are anticipated and addressed. If not dealt with properly, these feelings may interfere in daily activities that maintain mental health such as socializing or even working at the office. These struggles and feelings could very well lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

When people don't get relief from pain, they have increased vulnerability to negative thoughts.

They may feel more alone and isolated from people and the outside world. Disability is also a factor to consider when it comes to looking at high suicide risk rates, especially for those who weren’t always forced to live with pain. Those people tend to remember what it was like before their physical limitations.

Important Warning Signs

Sadly, warning signs of suicide are not always clear in patients with chronic pain. It's important to keep an eye on loved ones to identify signs of depression, hopelessness, or any clues about suicidal plans such as disinterest in the future. The study co-author concludes that the best thing to do is to encourage people to ask for help when it’s needed. He cautions against physicians and family taking the topic of suicide lightly and encourages asking directly about suicidal thoughts when given the chance.

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