Updated 04 April 2017

Self-harm increases risk of suicide by almost 400%

Researchers found that the one-year suicide rate among self-harm patients was considerably higher than in the general population.


According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) there are at least 23 suicides a day in South Africa – which may be underestimated owing to the stigma involved in suicide.  

And adults who self-harm appear to be at increased risk for suicide over the next year, a new study suggests.

"The patterns seen in this study suggest that clinical efforts should focus on ensuring the safety of individuals who survive deliberate self-harm during the first few months after such attempts, particularly when a violent method such as a firearm has been used," said senior study author Dr Mark Olfson. He's a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York City.

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Stigma involved in suicide

"For these patients, clinicians should strongly consider inpatient admission, intensive supervision and interventions targeting underlying mental disorders to reduce suicide risk. In addition, clinicians can encourage family members to install trigger locks or temporarily store firearms outside the patient's home," Olfson said in a university news release.

The researchers examined Medicaid (American social health care programme for lower income groups) data on more than 62 000 people in 45 states diagnosed with an initial self-harm episode between 2001 and 2007.

The study found that nearly 20% mostly older whites who had been recently treated for a mental disorder such as depression or alcohol use disorder repeated self-harm in the following year.

Violent self-harm methods

In the new report on suicide, two-thirds of suicides during initial self-harm episodes were violent, with more than 40% involving guns. The risk of suicide was about 10 times greater in the first month after an initial episode of self-harm using a violent method than during the following 11 months.

"This study supports our hypothesis that use of a firearm or other violent self-harm methods greatly increases the risk of suicide, especially in the short term," Olfson said.

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