Suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts in chronic pain patients: Factors associated with increased risk

Michael T. Smith, Robert R. Edwards, Richard C. Robinson, Robert H. Dworkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


This study describes suicidal behavior in a cross-sectional sample of chronic pain patients and evaluates factors associated with increased risk for suicidal ideation. One hundred-fifty-three adults with nonmalignant pain (42% back pain) who were consecutively referred to a tertiary care pain center completed a Structured Clinical Interview for Suicide History, the McGill Pain Questionnaire, and the Beck Depression Inventory. Nineteen-percent reported current passive suicidal ideation (PSI), 13% had active thoughts of committing suicide (ASI), 5% had a current suicide plan, and 5% reported a previous suicide attempt. Drug overdose was the most commonly reported plan and method of attempt (75%). Thirteen-percent reported a family history of suicide attempt/completion. Pain-specific and traditional suicide risk factors were evaluated as predictors of current PSI and ASI. Logistic regression analyses revealed that a family history of suicide attempts/completions was associated with a 7.5 fold increase in risk of PSI (P=0.001) and a 6.6 fold increase in ASI (P=0.003), after adjusting for significant covariates. Having abdominal pain was associated with an adjusted 5.5 fold increase in PSI (P=0.05) and a 4.2 fold increase in ASI (P=0.10). Neuropathic pain significantly reduced risk for both PSI (P=0.002) and ASI (P=0.01). Demographics, pain severity, and depression severity were not associated with suicidal ideation in multivariate analyses. These findings highlight the need for routine evaluation and monitoring of suicidal behavior in chronic pain, especially for patients with family histories of suicide, those taking potentially lethal medications, and patients with abdominal pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-208
Number of pages8
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2004


  • Abdominal pain
  • Chronic pain
  • Family history
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide
  • Suicide attempt
  • Suicide plan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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