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World Suicide Prevention Day 2021

Trig­ger warn­ing: sui­cide, sui­cide ideation, self-harm

The 10th of Sep­tem­ber marks World Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Day 2021. So, here at Pain Con­cern, we decid­ed to do some research on the links between sui­cide and chron­ic pain. 

Despite the fact that research in this area is lim­it­ed, there is already some extreme­ly enlight­en­ing lit­er­a­ture on the subject. 

We also had the priv­i­lege to receive a state­ment from sur­vivor Ruth Hunt, who has first hand expe­ri­ence of how long-term pain and sui­ci­dal­i­ty often go hand in hand.

Ear­ly stage research on the topic

The fol­low­ing jour­nal arti­cle, pub­lished in 2020, was writ­ten by Senior Research Fel­low at the Cen­ter for Con­tex­tu­al Psy­chi­a­try Olivia Kirt­ley, Pro­fes­sor of Health Psy­chol­o­gy at Stafford­shire Uni­ver­si­ty Karen Rod­ham and Research Psy­chol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford Cather­ine Crane. 

They high­light a more holis­tic approach towards chron­ic pain and men­tal health prob­lems (par­tic­u­lar­ly sui­cide), which have pre­vi­ous­ly been treat­ed more as sep­a­rate issues. Kirt­ley, Rod­ham and Crane assert that ‘indi­vid­u­als with chron­ic pain are at ele­vat­ed risk of sui­cide’ and pro­pose that actu­al­ly these two top­ics are inex­tri­ca­bly linked and should be treat­ed as such in the med­ical field.

To read this pub­li­ca­tion in full please click here.

We hope that fund­ing and research in this area con­tin­ues to gain trac­tion in the com­ing years.

Words from a survivor

The fol­low­ing is a first hand account writ­ten by Ruth Hunt about her own ongo­ing expe­ri­ences of sui­cide and chron­ic pain:

I was just 18 years old when I stepped off a win­dow ledge and dropped forty feet, hit­ting the back of my heels first, caus­ing life-chang­ing dam­age in my back, with burst frac­tures dam­ag­ing my spinal cord at L1, L2. This means that below my waist I have a lack of mobil­i­ty and sensation.

Thir­ty years lat­er, and that ini­tial injury has been joined by an ampu­tat­ed right leg. When I was in my late twen­ties (and in my thir­ties and for­ties) I began to suf­fer from spinal cord relat­ed osteo­poro­sis and kypho­sis. The bipo­lar dis­or­der that con­tributed to the inci­dent when I was 18 is now most­ly under con­trol, but has been replaced by a per­sis­tent reac­tive depres­sion that, as I have got old­er, has become more of a problem.

A defin­ing moment for me was the year when I lost my leg in 1999. I had expect­ed relief, after suf­fer­ing for ten years with a pres­sure sore on the heel.  Instead, the pain was pure agony, and I could no longer go out to work because of it.

I fell into a deep depres­sion and at the end of the year tried to end my life. After a week in inten­sive care, I was put on a Sec­tion 3 and spent the next three years in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. Dur­ing this peri­od, I had to leave the job I worked so hard to get, my mar­riage with the only man I have loved end­ed and my home, which we had only just bought, had to be sold at a loss. Home­less in hos­pi­tal, I faced the prospect of start­ing com­plete­ly over again. I thought things couldn’t get any worse.

Bit by bit I began again, but it became clear that not only had my con­fi­dence tak­en a huge knock, but my phys­i­cal state was con­sid­er­ably worse. Bone-pain was added to neu­ro­path­ic pain and phan­tom pain.

My spinal sur­geon diag­nosed me with osteo­poro­sis. The curve in my back, kypho­sis, began to be mon­i­tored, some­thing I viewed then (and still do) as point­less as I’ve been told it’s too much of a risk to oper­ate on me.

The med­ica­tion to treat my pain is most­ly opi­ates, and when I was in my for­ties my dose reached 900 mg a day. My GP is reluc­tant to increase it any fur­ther, so I rely on PRN med­ica­tion to try and get me through the day and night.

 My world got small­er to the point where I am now, com­plete­ly iso­lat­ed at home.  I have care staff who bare­ly com­mu­ni­cate with me, as they assist me with per­son­al care.

 Increas­ing­ly, thoughts about end­ing my life have dom­i­nat­ed my days, but I don’t have any­body to talk it over with me. My jour­nal is my way of ‘talk­ing things over with myself’, but it’s not enough.   When I tried to talk to the GP, she looked alarmed, cut me off and asked if I was still tak­ing my medication…My bipo­lar isn’t the prob­lem — was my reply, but by then I had lost her attention.

Har­row­ing accounts like Ruth’s serve to high­light just how vital it is that more time and mon­ey is ded­i­cat­ed to research­ing and find­ing more effec­tive ways to treat patients who expe­ri­ence sui­ci­dal­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with their pain. This may mean that in time, Ruth, and many oth­ers with sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences, will be able to feel hope­ful about the future. We would like to thank Ruth pro­fuse­ly for shar­ing her sto­ry with us.

More Infor­ma­tion:

Please click on any of the below to be tak­en to their websites.

Fol­low us on twit­ter @PainConcern and join the con­ver­sa­tion with #World­Sui­cide­Pre­ven­tion­Day