Brain and Body

Certain Infections May Increase the Risk of Suicide, Study Finds

August 12, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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Earlier treatment could save lives. 

When it comes to suicide, there’s been a much stronger focus on the psychological predictors of suicide risk than the effects of biological factors.

According to researchers at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, being hospitalized with certain infections was linked with a higher risk of suicide death — in particular, hepatitis and HIV or AIDS constituted the highest suicide risks.

The study authors combed through Danish nationwide registers, which included all individuals ages 15 or older living in Denmark from 1980 through 2011, to explore the link between infections and suicide risk. The study population was comprised of over 7.2 million individuals, and they were grouped in categories based on pathogen and infection type.

Among the study population, over 809,000 (11.2 percent) were hospitalized with an infection during follow-up, and over 32,600 committed suicide. Of these suicides, nearly 7,900 (24.1 percent) individuals had been previously diagnosed with an infection during hospitalization.

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According to the results, which appear in JAMA Psychiatry, being hospitalized with an infection was linked with a 42 percent increase in risk of suicide death compared to those without infections. Further, the study found that the more infections and the longer the treatment, the higher the risk for death by suicide.

Although a link was discovered, the study wasn’t able to conclusively show that infection caused suicide. The authors say that their findings support the literature that links infections with an increased risk of suicidal behavior, but the link could also be impacted by other factors, like the psychological effect of being hospitalized with a severe infection.

"Our findings indicate that infections may have a relevant role in the pathophysiological mechanisms of suicidal behavior,” the authors write in the study. “Provided that the association between infection and the risk of death by suicide was causal, identification and early treatment of infections could be explored as a public health measure for prevention of suicide.”

“Still, further efforts are needed to clarify the exact mechanisms by which infection influences human behavior and risk of suicide," they conclude.

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