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Study Suggests Link Between Arthritis and Suicide Attempts

Men who suffer from arthritis may be nearly two times as likely to attempt suicide as those who do not, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto.

Using data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, which polled over 21,700 people on a variety of physical and mental health issues, the team of researchers from the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Institute for Life Course and Aging found that one out of every 26 men with arthritis had attempted suicide in their lifetime, compared to just one in 50 who did not have arthritis.

Women’s statistics also showed a difference between arthritic and non-arthritic people, with 5.3% of women with and 3.2% of women without making suicide attempts, though the correlation is less pronounced than it is for men.

“The magnitude of these associations with suicide attempts was comparable to that associated with depression, the most well-known risk factor for suicide attempts,” said lead author Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson.

However, the cross-sectional nature of the study is not yet strong enough evidence to suggest causation. Other lifestyle factors may contribute to the correlation — men are eight times more likely to commit suicide after a divorce, for example — although the 46% increased odds of suicide attempts for men with arthritis remained even after controlling for such factors as age, chronic pain, income, and mental health history.

“When we focused on adults with arthritis, we found that those who had experienced chronic parental domestic violence or sexual abuse during their childhood, had more than three times the odds of suicide attempts compared to adults with arthritis who had not experienced these childhood adversities,” Thomson said.

Co-author Natasha Ramzan added: “Other factors associated with suicide attempts among those with arthritis include a history of drug or alcohol dependence and/or anxiety disorders. In addition, those with arthritis who were younger, poorer and less educated also had higher odds of suicide attempts.”

The findings, published this month in the journal Rheumatology International, will need further corroboration from other researchers before they can prove truly significant, but if they are, they could have a large impact on the clinical treatment of arthritic patients.

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