Psychotic experiences in healthy people increases suicide risk

31 Aug 2017



Having a psychotic experience doubles the risk of subsequent suicidal thoughts and behaviours, according to an international study led by QBI.

Otherwise healthy people who had experienced hallucinations or delusions were more likely to have later suicidal thoughts or attempts, said lead author Professor John McGrath

The research, involving more than 33,000 participants from 19 countries, was a comprehensive study of the links between psychotic experiences and suicide risk in the general population.

“Psychotic experiences appear to be a marker of general psychological distress,” said Professor McGrath.

“Our previous research has found that hearing voices and seeing things that others can’t is more common than expected – about one in twenty people experience this at some point in their lives.”

Screening for suicide risk 

Queensland Brain Institute Director Professor Pankaj Sah, who was not involved in the study, said the research could have significant impact on public health guidelines with regards to doctors screening for suicide risk.

“Suicide attempts are relatively rare outcomes, but because they are rare they are hard to predict,” said Professor Sah. 

The new finding could help determine if someone was at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

“We believe that including questions relating to psychotic experiences in routine screening might improve prediction of subsequent suicide risk,” said Professor McGrath.

Children the most at risk

Professor John McGrath

The study found that suicide risk after a psychotic experience was increased across all age groups, but the link was more prominent in children.

“For children aged 12 and younger, those who had psychotic experiences were five to six times more likely to plan for suicide, and three times more likely to make an attempt,” said Professor McGrath.

“This particular finding in children reminds us how the pattern of mental disorders changes throughout the lifetime.”

Psychosis a factor, even in healthy people

Study participants were asked about psychotic experiences, mental disorders, as well as any suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts.

“We were able to adjust the data for a range of common mental disorders, such as depression.

Even in adjusting for these mental illnesses, people who’d had a psychotic experience still had a greater subsequent suicide risk.”

The study was based on community samples in many different countries, but excluded individuals who were diagnosed with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.

Findings of the study are published in the JAMA Psychiatry.

The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Danish National Research Foundation.


If this article raised concerns, contact: Lifeline 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800  


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