Premature Death, Suicides Up Among People With Schizophrenia, Study Says

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WEDNESDAY, June 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- People with schizophrenia are facing higher risks of dying prematurely, killing themselves and committing violent crimes compared to the general population, a new Swedish study finds.

Researchers looked at nearly 25,000 adults in Sweden diagnosed with schizophrenia or related disorders over almost four decades. They found that within five years of diagnosis, one in 50 committed suicide; around 1 in 10 men was convicted of a violent offense, and overall, the odds of dying prematurely were eight times higher than for people without the mental illness.

"In recent years, there has been a lot of focus on primary prevention of schizophrenia -- preventing people from getting ill. While primary prevention is clearly essential and may be some decades away, our study highlights the crucial importance of secondary prevention -- treating and managing the risks of adverse outcomes, such as self-harm or violent behavior, in patients," said study lead author Dr. Seena Fazel of Oxford University in England.

The study appears in the June 4 issue of The Lancet Psychiatry.

The findings suggest much work is needed to develop new treatments and mitigate risks of adverse outcomes in people with schizophrenia, Fazel said in a journal news release.

Fazel's team tracked people diagnosed from 1972 to 2009. The researchers wanted to know how often they committed violent crimes, died prematurely or committed suicide.

The researchers found the risk for all these potential outcomes rose over those 37 years compared with the general population and siblings without schizophrenia.

They then tracked hospital admissions of people with schizophrenia and saw that rising rates of self-harm and other violent behaviors seem to be associated with decreasing levels of inpatient care for these patients. However, the research doesn't establish a cause-and-effect relationship between these factors.

In a commentary, researchers cautioned that "most people with schizophrenia and related disorders are neither violent nor suicidal." It's important that people with schizophrenia and related disorders who are not violent are not stigmatized or discriminated against, they said.

More information

For more about schizophrenia, see the National Alliance on Mental Illness.