A Danish study published in 2010 alerted the medical community to a major crisis among fibromyalgia patients; their suicide risk is 10 times higher than people without fibromyalgia. At that time, Reuters reported that fibromyalgia often goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues, but that the true culprit in the increased suicide risk was most likely chronic pain. After eight years, a new study has finally confirmed the link between fibromyalgia and suicide and also discovered one of the best ways to minimize this risk.
According to Science Daily, a team of researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that seeing a physician more frequently is the main key to suicide prevention for patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Patients who have the best results spend at least 50 hours per year seeing a medical professional. Overall, those who had any suicidal thoughts during the study saw their doctor an average of 1.7 hours annually. By comparison, study participants who had no suicidal thoughts spent 5.9 hours a year with their physician.
Lindsey McKernan, Ph.D., said the results aren’t surprising because “fibromyalgia takes a lot to manage” and “chronic pain is very isolating over time.” She further stated that “not one [person] who received mental health services of some kind went on to attempt suicide.” McKernan says this is because working with a mental health professional is one of the primary steps to fibromyalgia care, along with physical therapy, self-management techniques, regular exercise, and getting frequent checkups from a rheumatologist and primary care provider.
This backs up the assertions of the original research team from 8 years ago. Reuters quoted rheumatologist Dr. Bente Danneskiold-Samse’s opinion that mental health issues associated with fibromyalgia aren’t often caused by depression. Instead, “it has something to do with their pain.” The chronic pain from this condition is often widespread, hard to manage with medication, and can be a daily hindrance for the rest of the patient’s life.
The National Institutes of Health pointed out one of the primary reasons that fibromyalgia patients may not receive the medical care they need: getting a diagnosis is often extremely difficult. The average patient spends 2.3 years trying to get a proper diagnosis, and they’ll see 3.7 different medical professionals during this time. Add to that the average one-year wait to seek help after symptoms begin, and this leaves many people in chronic pain for more than three years before they get adequate medical care.
Per Health, more than 25 percent of fibromyalgia patients also report dealing with an unsympathetic attitude from doctors who don’t believe the condition is real. This stigma is becoming less prevalent, but it still exists in some medical circles despite decades of research proving otherwise. This lack of compassion and proper medical treatment is another factor in which fibromyalgia patients get regular checkups versus those who become suicidal.