Suicide is a leading cause of death in persons with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses (SMI), however, little is known about the characteristics and circumstances of suicide decedents with SMI in the US compared to those with other or no known mental illness.
This study was a retrospective analysis of suicide deaths in individuals aged ≥18 years from the National Violent Death Reporting System, 2003–2017. Odds ratios compared sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, cause of death, precipitating circumstances, and post-mortem toxicology results. All analyses were stratified by gender.
Of the 174,001 suicide decedents, 8.7% had a known SMI, 33.0% had other mental disorders, and 58.2% had no known mental illness. Relative to persons with other mental disorders, SMI decedents were younger and more likely to have previous suicide attempts and co-occurring drug use. Problems with intimate partners, poor physical health, and recent institutional release were the most common precipitating circumstances for SMI decedents. Firearms were the most common suicide method for males with SMI. Although 67.0% male and 76.0% of female SMI decedents were currently in treatment, toxicology results suggest many were not taking antipsychotic or antidepressant medications at the time of death.
Persons with SMI are over-represented in suicide deaths. Efforts to improve treatment of co-occurring substance use disorders, continuity of care following hospitalization, medication adherence, and to reduce access to firearms are important suicide prevention strategies.