New suicide-risk behavior patterns can alert doctors, families of depressed people before suicide attempt

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depressed young man
Photo of a depressed young man Reuters/File

Doctors could now caution families if  a depressed patient is at risk of attempting suicide as psychiatrists have identified a new clear pattern of suicide-risk behaviour to observe the patients. Experts say depressed people displaying risky behaviour, agitation and impulsivity are at least 50 percent higher risk to attempt suicide.

An international study by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, or ECNP, analysed the characteristics and behaviours of patients who had attempted suicide and discovered that "certain patterns recur" before the attempts. The researchers evaluated 2,811 patients with depression and found that those people who attempted suicide showed behavioural symptoms such as risky driving, pacing around rooms or wringing their hands, or acting with "little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences."

The study stated that the “depressive mixed states” or the depression mixed with agitated, impulsive or risky behaviour were observed in 40 percent of all depressed patients who went on to attempt suicide.  Those patients experiencing the depressive mixed state have also showed symptoms of “excitation” or “mania,” said Dr Dina Popovic, author of the study and a psychiatrist and clinical researcher at the University of Barcelona.

Paul Farmer from the mental health charity Mind said about 6,000 people in UK attempt suicide every year, and experts say they still “don't know enough about why that happens." The researchers also suggest that the existing criteria for identifying patients showing mixed states missed those who could have symptoms indicating a greater suicide risk.

“The major diagnostic and statistical manual that tells you what to do and how to diagnose patients is not paying attention to some of these symptoms,” Popovic said. Farmer described the research by Popovic and her team gives an "important message" about the "indicators that people should look out for" on a depressed patient.

The study gives an important message for all clinicians to give an effective preventive measures which were "urgently needed,” Popovic stated. “The strength of this study is that it’s not a clinical trial with ideal patients – it’s a big study from the real world.”

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