Chronic pain in adolescents is a risk factor for suicide ideation, according to new research reported in The Journal of Pain, published by American Pain Society. Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Duke University and Lehman College in New York analyzed data from the 9,970 person National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They examined the link of chronic pain with increased risk for suicide ideation and suicide attempt, and also assessed the relationship of pain, comorbid depression and suicide ideation.
Previous studies in adults have shown that suffering from chronic pain can be severe enough to prompt patients to contemplate suicide. Suicide is a major cause of death among adolescents. In 2009, 14 percent of adolescents polled had seriously considered suicide and 6 percent attempted it. This is the first study to associate chronic pain with suicide ideation and attempt in this population. The authors noted that recognizing the sources of increased risk for suicide in adolescents and offering appropriate care can make a difference in saving lives.
Subjects who said they experience pain once week for at least 12 months were evaluated in the study. In adolescents, headache is the most commonly reported pain problem. For the study, suicide ideation and attempt were measured by asking subjects: “During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously think about committing suicide?” and “During the past 12 months, how many times did you attempt suicide?” Depression was measured by answers to questions on a widely used depression measurement scale.
The researchers found that, similar to adults, self reported pain was associated with increased risk of suicide ideation in adolescents and did not vary as a function of age or gender. Also, suicide attempts by adolescents with chronic pain were largely associated with depression, which is common in chronic pain patients. Therefore, comorbid depression may further increase the risk of suicide attempt in adolescents with chronic pain.
The authors advised clinicians they should be alert to possible suicide ideation and attempt in adolescents with chronic pain and aggressively treat comorbid psychiatric disorders.
Material adapted from American Pain Society.