National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Insomnia Linked with Increased Thoughts of Suicide, Study Finds
By Keiana Smith-McDowell, NAMI Communications Intern
A new study suggests sleep issues, namely insomnia may increase thoughts of suicide in patients who have a preexisting mental illness such as depression.
The study which appears in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine shows that dysfunctional beliefs and attitudes towards sleep and having nightmares are linked with increase thoughts of suicide.
“Insomnia and nightmares, which are often confused and may go hand-in-hand, are known risk factors for suicide but just how they contribute was unknown,” said Dr. W. Vaughn McCall, Chair of the Medical College of Georgia Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Georgia Regents University in a press release.
According to the CDC, depression which is often a precursor to suicide, affects one in every 10 Americans and 121 million people world-wide.
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death amongst young people aged 15 to 24, and the 11th leading cause of death in the United States.
For the study, Dr. McCall and his colleagues measured symptoms of depression, hopelessness, insomnia and dysfunctional beliefs in 50 patients, aged 20 to 84 all of whom had been previously treated for some form of depression. Over one-half of the patients had at some point previously attempted suicide.
Although the study confirms a link, dysfunctional thoughts such as “There is nothing I can do to sleep better,” and “If I don’t sleep well tonight I won’t be able to sleep the rest of the week,” as well as nightmares were found as absolute factors related to the intensity of suicidal thoughts.
Meaning, insomnia alone is not the cause.
“It was this dysfunctional thinking, all these negative thoughts about sleep that was the mediating factor that explained why insomnia was linked to suicide,” said McCall in a press release.
So why not just treat insomnia?
Changes in routine such as social activities and exercise, as well as behavioral therapies are some methods used to treat insomnia. However, Dr. McCall says very few physicians are trained to counsel individuals with insomnia about their routines.
“More understand how to prescribe, so a patient is more likely to get a pill like Ambien than specific-sleep-counseling,” said McCall.
Persons living with depression are more likely to receive a medication, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), to treat both the depression and the insomnia, rather than comprehensive therapy.