Why stroke survivors are at higher risk of attempting suicide

Studies have shown that stroke victims are at a higher risk of taking their own lives, compared to people who haven’t suffered a stroke. (MNT 2015) A stroke occurs when the blood flow that is supplied to the brain suddenly stops. There are two different types of stroke: the ischemic stroke and the hemorrhagic stroke. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood in a blood vessel. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a broken blood vessel that bleeds into the brain. There are also ‘mini-strokes’ that are called transient ischemic attacks, when blood supply to the brain is interrupted briefly.

Some of the most common symptoms of strokes include:

  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden confusion
  • Having trouble speaking
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg (usually on one particular side of the body)

As can be expected, having a stroke leaves its mark. Those who have experienced a stroke may often exhibit a host of symptoms. This can include changes in speed of action, slowed, or impaired judgement, changes in emotion, differences in perception, confusion and partial paralysis. Unfortunately, a stroke can also have an effect on one’s mental health.

Suicide post-stroke

Depression, substance abuse, suicide and higher mortality rates are all risks that should be considered as possible occurrences after a stroke. Studies conducted to find correlations between stroke survivors and suicide in America have found very similar results. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted an analysis from data collected between 2005 and 2010 and found that approximately 6.2 million American adults were stroke survivors during that period. When this group was asked how often they had self-destructive or suicidal thoughts over a two-week period, the results showed higher probability of suicide among those who were younger, had a higher depression score, had higher body mass index, lower income, were female and were single. (MNT 2013)

A recent article in “Medical News Today” titled “Stroke survivors are ‘at double the risk of attempting suicide’”, described a study that found stroke patients have twice the risk of committing suicide compared to people who have never had a stroke. Umeå University analyzed data from 220,336 patients registered in Riks-Stroke, the Swedish Stroke Register, who had suffered a stroke between the years 2001 and 2012. According to the National Board of Health and Welfare and the National Cause of Death Register, among the stroke patients in the study 1,217 registered suicide attempts included 260 completed suicides. When the Umea team compared the suicide incidences among stroke patients to that of the rest of the population, they found that the stroke survivors were twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to the rest of the population. Also according to the study, patients who were born outside of Europe were found to have half the risk of committing suicide compared to those born in Europe.

Stroke victims experience a loss of themselves. First they have to face the original cause of the stroke, many people who have strokes have high-blood pressure, heart disease, are chronic smokers or have diabetes. Generally speaking, most people that have a stroke had a pre-existing health problem. As a result, when people have a stroke, they tend to feel poorly about themselves already. The onset of a stroke or more than one stroke only adds to feelings of hopelessness and lack of control, weakening victims’ resistance to suicidal ideation.

A combination of family support, therapy, medication, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy can get the stroke survivor back on a more positive track. It’s important that any degree of depression is addressed with appropriate therapies and medical treatment. If the depression isn’t addressed, no other therapies will accurately treat it. Treatment for depression through various psychiatric and psychological therapeutic modalities can greatly benefit anybody suffering from despair.

If you would like more information on how to find treatment for depression or find help for suicidal thoughts or tendencies, you can call the Mental Health Helpline at 855-653-8178 to speak to a member of our team and start the journey to recovery today.