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A new, large, study just identified which three behavioral patterns indicate a depressed person has a 50 percent increased risk of attempting suicide.

Suicide is a major killer — one that claims over 800,000 lives every year, and is a leading cause of death in young people. Isn't it time to start taking suicide and its underlying causes as seriously as we take heart disease and breast cancer? 

A new study set out to achieve just that. Researchers from the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), an independent scientific association dedicated to the science and treatment of disorders of the brain, not only pointed out that suicide prevention measures are desperately needed, they also identified suicide risk factors that healthcare professionals will be able to act on.

The Study

The BRIDGE-II-MIX study is a major international study that examined depression and suicide. Interviewing 2811 people diagnosed with depression, 628 of whom had previously attempted to take their own lives, the research team sought to determine the behavioral patterns and characteristics of those people who attempted suicide. They then compared this data with information gathered about depression people who had not tried to commit suicide. 

Study author Dina Popovic told the press: "We found that 'depressive mixed states' often preceded suicide attempts. A depressive mixed state is where a patient is depressed, but also has symptoms of 'excitation', or mania." She added that "40 percent of all the depressed patients who attempted suicide had a 'mixed episode' rather than just depression" and that "all the patients who suffer from mixed depression are at much higher risk of suicide."

So, What Symptoms Incidicate That A Depressed Person Is At Risk Of Suicide?

The second phase of the study involved in-depth analysis of the data the team had gathered. Though this data, the research team reached the conclusion that depressed people at risk of suicide tend to display certain symptoms, which can be picked up by healthcare providers:

  • Excessive risk-taking, like promiscuous behavior and reckless driving
  • "Psychomotor agitation" — physical signs such as pacing around, pulling clothes off, and fidgeting
  • Impulsivity
Depressed people who display all of these symptoms have a 50 percent increased risk of taking their own lives. What do we do with that information? 
 
Dr Popovic says: "In our opinion, assessing these symptoms in every depressed patient we see is extremely important, and has immense therapeutical implications. Most of these symptoms will not be spontaneously referred by the patient, the clinician needs to inquire directly, and many clinicians may not be aware of the importance of looking at these symptoms before deciding to treat depressed patients."
 
She also pointed out that this study's major strength is the fact that it wasn't "a clinical trial, with ideal patients – it’s a big study, from the real world". The information gathered through this research should directly inform clinician's professional opinion. When seeing depressed patients, doctors should take their symptoms — especially the identified suicide risk factors — very seriously. 
 
The study will be presented at the ENCP conference in Amsterdam this coming Sunday. Hopefully, the data will inspire suicide prevention measures that will end up saving the lives of many people affected by depression.