People With Schizophrenia Have A Higher Risk of Suicide Study Confirms

The suicide risk for people with schizophrenia between the ages of 18 to 34 years is ten times higher than that for the general US population, according to a new study published in May.

The study from the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry looked at a large population of adults diagnosed with schizophrenia and found that the youngest group (18-34) had the highest suicide risk and those aged 65 and older the lowest. By comparison, in the general US population, the reverse is true: younger adults have a smaller risk and older age groups have a greater risk.

The Columbia study, published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry also showed that people with schizophrenia, overall, have a 4.5-fold increased risk of dying from suicide, the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

“When a person with schizophrenia is becoming suicidal, an attempt can happen with little warning,” said Mark Olfson, Elizabeth K. Dollard professor of psychiatry at Columbia and lead author of the study. “Often, suicidal behavior in schizophrenia is driven by psychotic processes. This aspect can make it difficult to anticipate and prevent.”

The study, which provides a significant amount of data on age and suicide risk, could help suicide prevention efforts for people with schizophrenia. “Knowing more about which age groups and what personal characteristics are linked to higher risk could increase attention and support for the most vulnerable patients,” Olfson said.

Colorado Recovery founder Richard Warner believed that recovery rates for schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts are also linked to the social and economic environment. 

In his classic Recovery from Schizophrenia, Dr. Warner pointed out a strong statistical correlation between lack of employment and suicidal ideation. “Work problems, economic stress, and unemployment appear to be important in precipitating suicide.” (2nd edition, 1994)

Unfortunately, discrimination and stigma prevent many people with a mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder from finding purposeful employment. Too many of their fellow citizens believe people with such mental disorders are unable to work.

In a more recent book, The Environment of Schizophrenia, Warner wrote that “the mentally ill are among the most alienated people in our society, daily confronting the key elements of alienation—meaninglessness, powerlessness, normlessness, and estrangement from society and from work.” This induces an “existential neurosis” which in turn drives a significantly higher risk of suicide. “Many people with mental illness face lives of aimlessness and boredom,” wrote Warner.

Work can help overcome that sense of aimlessness and provide a better chance of recovery. “Productive activity is basic to a person’s sense of identity and worth. Given training and support, most people with schizophrenia can work,” Warner wrote. A productive life in recovery can also shield from suicidal ideation. 

Colorado Recovery approaches care for mental health based on a path of self-reliance through developed practiced skills. This non-institutionalized philosophy offers comprehensive levels of care supported by an expert medical and clinical team, engaging patients in increasing community participation.

Our treatment facility provides the services needed to address schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental illnesses which are specific to each individual. Call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.