Physical Health

The majority of research on suicide rates among hospital patients has focused on psychiatric patients; however, suicide occurs among patients in medical and surgical sections of hospitals as well. Researchers have linked the following factors to increased risk: frequent major surgery, depression related to chronic pain and altered body functions, fears of death and suffering, incapacitation, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and loss of social support. Hemodialysis and HIV patients have been identified as special risk groups; but overall, severity of physical illness, physical pain, and prognoses seem most likely to contribute to suicidal behavior, regardless of specific diagnosis (Bellini & Bruschi, 1996). Similar to previously hospitalized psychiatric patients, medical patients also exhibit higher suicidal behavior shortly after hospital discharge (McKenzie & Wurr, 2001).

One problem with studying the relationship between physical illness and suicide is the overlap between depressive symptoms and physical symptoms. Research by J. Brown, Henteleff, Barakat, and Rowe (1986) indicates that suicidal thoughts and the desire for death are linked exclusively to depressive symptoms. These authors suggest that physicians may fail to recognize and treat the depression, which points again to the importance of the depression factor in suicide. Additional research suggests that physical infirmity in itself may or may not present a higher risk for suicide, but that social isolation and depression associated with physical illness significantly increase suicide risk (Kishi, Robinson, & Kosier, 2001).

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