A new study reports that people suffering from anxiety and panic attacks are more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those suffering from depression. The relationship between anxiety and suicide risk has long been debated, but now a number of papers in a special issue of Depression and Anxiety aim to settle the controversy by demonstrating that anxiety posed a greater suicide risk than depression. Part of the report stated :
“In the first study, Dr. Phillip Batterham examined 7,485 adults and found that suicidal thoughts were more strongly predicted by incident symptoms of anxiety than depression.
Zimri Yaseen examined 2,864 individuals with depression in a national U.S. sample and found that panic attacks associated with a specific catastrophic fear of dying predicted subsequent suicide attempts.
Amrit Kanwar co-authors the final study; the first meta-analysis of the role of anxiety disorders in suicide. Dr. Kanham reviewed 42 studies covering a total of 309,974 adults and conclusively showed that patients with an anxiety disorder were more likely to have suicidal thoughts.”
Those who have and are still suffering from major depression will testify to the feelings of hopelessness that depression brings. However, one explanation for the above could be the rush of adrenalin that accompanies an incident of anxiety or a panic attack. Maybe this rush of energy is what could push a sufferer to think about suicide and maybe carry through with it. It would also go to explain some suicide cases where there were few signs of struggle beforehand and no suicide note was left. If one can imagine the overwhelming feelings that come with the fear that anxiety causes, then it is easy to imagine that some would contemplate suicide as a means of escape.
Suicidal behavior has not been associated with anxiety disorders alone until recently. In 1999, the Surgeon General could only say that, ” it is likely that the rate of co morbid [simultaneous] anxiety in suicide is underestimated.” There had been no studies at the time of anxiety disorder alone being a risk factor for suicide. However, since then there have been a number of studies of the risks of anxiety disorders alone for suicide. It has been universally found that the suicide risk in patients with anxiety disorders is much higher than previously thought. Bob Montgomery and Laurel Morris say,
Patients with anxiety problems, especially but not only panic problems, suffer an unexpectedly high rate of heart disease and suicide. Suicide has long been recognized as a risk associated with depression. But [when] researchers compared a group of anxious with a matched group of depressed patients, they found that the suicide rates for anxious patients were equal to or slightly higher than for the depressed patients.
The studies mentioned in this post, as well as others, point to anxiety disorders alone being a significant risk for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and suicide completion. As Sareen states in his study, mental health professionals need to be aware of the suicide risk that anxiety disorders present:
[P]ublic health treatment strategies aimed at reducing suicidal behavior in the community should target individuals with mood disorders alone, anxiety disorders alone, and especially those with both an anxiety and a mood disorder.
For anyone with one or more anxiety disorder, it will come as no surprise that thoughts of suicide can accompany the disorder. But thoughts of suicide — suicidal ideation — are a far cry from suicide attempts and what psychiatrists rather coldly call “suicide completion.” There are many studies that connect anxiety disorders with other mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia, in suicidal behavior. Some studies state that as many as 75 percent of all people with suicidal behavior have anxiety disorder along with another serious mental illness. This has led many mental health professionals to not regard anxiety disorders alone as a risk for suicidal behavior. But the research outlined in this post suggests that a significant number of people go beyond mere ideation to suicide attempts and completion with no other mental illnesses to blame.
Doctor Philip Batterham, professor and researcher at the Australian National University Centre for Medical Health Research said, “the role of anxiety is often overlooked,” . In fact, Dr. Batterham continued, “it appears from other research that anxiety disorders often occur before depression among individuals who have both types of disorder.” The emphasis, then, should be on identifying anxiety to stop suicidal ideation before depression even occurs.
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