The Link Between Panic Attacks and Suicide

panic attacksThe symptoms of a panic attack instill the fear of dying into the individuals who suffer from panic disorder.[1] According to Zimri Yaseen, M.D., and colleagues, this is an independent risk factor for suicide attempts.1 Clinicians have a difficult time predicting suicide in a specific person, with an average of 105 people taking their own lives each day.1 Yaseen and colleagues completed a study in 2011 that they hope will help clinicians assess suicide risk, ultimately preventing attempts.1

Suicide is an effect of emotional action, not rational action.1 When people feel trapped, with no other options, they begin to panic and form distorted cognitions, leading to suicidal acts.1 The individual is flooded with thoughts that they are unable to control, typically regarding negative aspects of their life which make them feel guilty.1 Frantically, they begin to think life will not, and cannot, improve, leaving them feeling imminent doom.1

Panic and depression are linked by a negative view of the self, causing psychosocial stress in the response of panic.1 Growing evidence links panic with suicide.1 Yaseen and colleagues studied panic attacks and symptoms as they related to lifetime suicidal ideation and attempts.1 Two-thousand six-hundred and seventy-nine individuals who experienced major depressive episodes participated in the study.1 Yaseen and colleagues found that past-year history of panic attacks was significantly associated with a lifetime history of suicidal ideation, attempts, and, unfortunately, successes.1 Cognitions of panic, such as fear of dying, losing control, or going insane were strongly associated with suicide attempt than were choking sensations and chest pain.1 Therefore, they found that catastrophic cognitions may be able to specifically distinguish those who are at a higher risk for suicide attempt.1

Yaseen and colleagues recommend that patients who present to emergency departments with symptoms of panic be screened for a mood disorder and suicidality.1 Panic symptoms should be paid close attention, as those symptoms could be a sign of significant warning.1 Hospitalizing patients who present a risk can help decrease suicide rates.1

[1] Kaplan, A. (2013, February 12). Panic Attacks and Suicide. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/panic-disorder/panic-attacks-and-suicide/page/0/1

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