Suicide Rate at 30-Year High, Implications for TBI patients


The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high, according to the New York Times. Also, the method of suicide seems to be changing. An increased number of people are using suffocation to kill themselves. This includes hanging and strangulation. The number of suffocation cases increased to one in four suicides in 2014 from one in five in 1999.

Suicide sometimes becomes a risk factor in people with brain injury. Depression is just one of the delayed symptoms that can occur in the weeks and months following brain injury. Frustration in adjusting to life as they now know it is adds to the problems. Impulsivity is another important factor in traumatic brain injury cases. The interplay between all of these factors and stress may trigger a suicide attempt.

One of the statistics that stood out to us was the increase in young girls who commit suicide. The number is still very low. There were 50 in 1999, and it has tripled to 150 in 2014. While this raw number is still very low, we are concerned that the increase in the number of those who use strangulation as an option could account for the tripling of the raw number.

The risk of suicide should never be forgotten in those with brain damage, especially those who survive carbon monoxide poisoning or with CTE.

Schwarzbold and colleagues‘ 2008 study says that psychiatric illness is frequent after traumatic brain injury. Researchers in this area are vital to patient care and may help with diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders. Brain injury has been called the “silent epidemic.” Maybe brain injury isn’t always visible, but it’s there.

Public knowledge about brain injury is very limited. Work still needs to be done to educate the general population about traumatic brain injury. When someone has brain damage, they can become aggressive or depressed. The study suggested that the rupture of neural circuits involving the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, basal ganglia, and thalamus may be related to the development of depression due to TBI.

In a study by Deb and colleagues (1999), the researchers suggest that neurobehavioral symptoms are common after traumatic brain injury. The goal of the research was to evaluate the type and extent of psychiatric disorders in patients with brain damage.

Just short of 200 hospitalized adults were studied one year after TBI. Then the doctors evaluated these patients for psychiatric disorders.

Of the 164 patients interviewed, 18.3 percent had received psychiatric diagnoses. Of the 120 who were 18 to 64 years old, 21.7 percent had psychiatric illness, higher than 16.4 percent of the general population.

Rates among brain injury patients for depression were 13.9 percent, compared to 2.1 percent of general population. Rates among traumatic brain injury patients for panic disorder were 9 percent, compared to 0.8 percent of general population.

In Simpson and Tate’s 2007 review in the journal Brain Injury, they conducted a literature review of suicidality after brain damage. The results from studies showed that people with TBI have a three to four times greater risk of death by suicide as well as significantly higher suicide attempts (18 percent) and suicide ideation (21 to 22 percent).

Suicide is never the answer. But with the suicide rate at a 30-year high, it is a topic of concern. If you or someone you know needs support for their brain injury, consider going to a support group. The Brain Injury Association USA lists support groups in each state here.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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