Small suicide risk for ICU patients – study

·2-min read

Patients who need care on intensive care units may be at increased risk of suicide or self-harm after being sent home, a new study suggests.

The overall risk was small, but researchers found that risk was associated with younger age, a previous mental health diagnosis and whether the person needed life support interventions.

The findings are particularly pertinent given the high numbers of people who have needed intensive care support throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadian researchers examined data on people who survived a stint in an intensive care unit (ICU) between 2009 and 2017.

A health worker tends to a patient on an ICU
A health worker tends to a patient on an ICU (Peter Byrne/PA)

They examined data on 423,060 people who needed intensive care support in Ontario, with an average age of 62 and 39% were women.

Researchers compared the data on the ICU patients to more than 3 million patients who needed hospital care, but not ICU support.

Among ICU survivors, 0.2% (750 patients) died by suicide compared with 0.1% (2,427) non-ICU hospital survivors.

They calculated that ICU patients had a 22% increased risk of suicide and a 15% increased risk of self-harm.

Factors which were associated with an increased risk included: a previous diagnosis of anxiety or depression, previous post-traumatic stress disorder and whether people needed invasive mechanical ventilation.

Those who had a lower risk were patients who were older and wealthier patients.

“Survivors of critical illness have increased risk of suicide and self-harm, and these outcomes were associated with pre-existing psychiatric illness and receipt of invasive life support,” the authors wrote.

“Knowledge of these factors might allow for earlier intervention to potentially reduce this important public health problem.”

Anyone struggling to cope can call Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 (UK and Ireland), email or visit the Samaritans website.

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