A new study has found that people who exhibit nervous or risky behavior are at least 50 percent (50%) more likely to commit suicide if they fall into a state of depression.
Nervous behavior may include agitation, pacing and hand-wringing, whereas risky behavior may include reckless driving and sudden promiscuity. However impulsive acts done without thinking of the consequences have also been linked to a higher risk of committing suicide.
Dr. Dina Popovic, lead author on the study and field expert from the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona (Spain), gave a statement saying that “Assessing these symptoms in every depressed patient we see is extremely important, and has immense therapeutical implications”.
For their study, Dr. Popovic and her team looked at over 2.800 patients suffering from depression. Almost 630 of them had previously attempted suicide. The team conducted interviews with each of their subjects, asking questions meant to reveal behavioral differences between depression patients who previously tried to commit suicide and depression patients who didn’t.
What the researchers found is that patients will not spontaneously refer to any of these symptoms, so the clinician has to remember to inquire directly, and that “depressive mixed states” usually precede suicide attempts.
Dr. Popovic explained that “A depressive mixed state is where a patient is depressed, but also has symptoms of ‘excitation’ or mania”. This was found significantly more in depression patients who previously tried to commit suicide, compared to depression patients who didn’t.
To be precise, 40 percent (40%) of the depression patients who previously tried to commit suicide had a depressive mixed state instead of plain depression, which means that these patients are generally at a much higher risk of suicide.
What’s more, the Spanish researchers also found that standard criteria used for diagnosing depression has only helped them identify 12 percent (12%) of the patients with depressive mixed states.
However, when the team used the new criteria, they managed to identify 40 percent (40%) of the patients with depressive mixed states.
The study has been well received by the scientific community. Dr. Donald Malone, chair of psychology and psychiatry from the Cleveland Clinic, was not involved in the project but gave a statement saying that “It has long been known that those patients with depression who also experience anxiety and / or agitation are more likely to attempt or complete suicide”.
He went on to add that these symptoms may also act as a clue that informs experts about a patient’s underlying diagnosis – bipolar depression (also known as manic depressive disorder). He explained that bipolar patients are at a higher risk of committing suicide in general, even when they don’t have a mixed state.
And on top of this, the drugs required to treat bipolar patients often differ immensely from those required to treat unipolar patients. Dr. Malone warns that antidepressants can actually make the situation worse for bipolar patients. This is precisely why an accurate diagnosis is essential for the wellbeing of the patient, and why the new study is so helpful.
The findings were presented just a few days ago, on Saturday (August 29, 2015), at the annual Amsterdam meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP).