Suicidal intent in patients with chronic pain

Betty J. Fisher, Jennifer A. Haythornthwaite, Leslie J. Heinberg, Michael Clark, Jeffery Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Suicidal ideation among individuals suffering from chronically painful conditions has not been widely studied, although rates of completed suicide are believed to be elevated in this population relative to the general population. The psychiatric literature on suicide documents the importance of controlling for the severity of depression when studying factors associated with suicidal ideation, attempts, or completion. The present study examined the relationships between suicidal ideation and the experience of pain, pain-related disability, and pain coping efforts among a sample of individuals experiencing chronically painful conditions. Of 200 patients evaluated on an inpatient rehabilitation unit in a psychiatric service, 13 individuals (6.5%) reported suicidal intent on a commonly used self-report measure of symptoms of depression, the Beck Depression Inventory. This group was compared to a matched (age, sex, pain duration) group of similarly depressed individuals (N = 13) and a matched group of non-depressed individuals (N = 13) on measures of pain, disability, pain beliefs, and pain coping strategies. A history of a suicide attempt was associated with suicidal intent. Family history of substance abuse was significantly more prevalent among the depressed groups, regardless of suicidal thinking. The depressed/suicidal group and depressed/non-suicidal groups reported higher levels of pain, higher levels of pain-related disability, lower use of active coping, and higher use of passive coping compared to the non-depressed group. The depressed groups did not differ from one another on any of the measures of pain experience. Depression, not suicidal status, consistently predicted level of functioning. The prevalence of suicidal intent was comparable to rates observed in other studies and relatively low. When individuals with chronic pain report suicidal intent, it is imperative that measures preventing self-harm be implemented immediately and the patient's depression be treated aggressively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-206
Number of pages8
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Chronic pain
  • Suicidal intent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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