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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 00:54 GMT
Suicide risk for rich mentally ill
Depressed patient
Researchers link wealth to suicide among mentally ill
Rich people with a history of mental illness are up to three times more likely to kill themselves than those with less money, research suggests.

Scientists in Denmark have discovered that contrary to popular opinion it is not the poorer of society who are most at risk.

They say richer patients might wait until their problem is very severe before admitting they need help.

"Richer people with a mental disorder may be more suicidal before they are admitted to hospitals or they may feel more stigmatised vulnerable and shameful about having a mental illness.

Our view is that mental ill-health does not distinguish between class or income boundaries

Melba Wilson,
"Perhaps treatment focuses on people from lower social classes as most patients are from this background, and perhaps patients from higher income groups are less likely to be admitted," said the report.

The researchers looked at 811 people who had committed suicide between 1982 and 1994 and found the suicide risk for patients admitted to hospital with a mental illness fell dramatically with decreasing income.

Scientists said they were surprised by the findings as previous research showed that suicide rates among men from the lowest social classes were four times higher than those from the higher income brackets.

Suicide and wealth

The scientists found that among the general population the people with the lowest incomes were twice as likely to kill themselves.

But that the opposite was true among patients who had been admitted to hospital with mental illnesses and discharged shortly before their suicide.

In a commentary in the same British Medical Journal article David Gunnell, from Bristol University, added that because richer people have the money for other forms of care they might delay their admission to hospitals.

Reiterating the Danish researchers' views that by the time they are admitted their condition is more severe, he calls for more studies into the links between suicide and wealth.

"Further studies...are needed to determine whether any increased risk of suicide in high income psychiatric patients is due to the greater severity of illness or the stigmatising effects of admission to hospital in this group."

The Mental Health Foundation said that the research is at odds with their own data, but admitted this could be because the study was a Danish one, based on Danish social trends.

Vulnerable groups

"What we do know is that, in the UK, suicide is associated with poverty, poor social conditions, unemployment and violence, particularly among young men," said a spokeswoman.

"Furthermore, men in unskilled employment are more than twice as likely to kill themselves compared with other men in the population.

"Between 1975 when there was a rise in male unemployment there was also a rise in male suicide."

She called for better strategies of suicide prevention and targeting of vulnerable groups.

Melba Wilson, policy director of the mental health charity Mind, said: "We feel it is more helpful in this context to discuss suicide prevention amongst all socio-economic groups.

"We would support implementation of Standard 7 of the National Service Framework on Mental Health, which aims, among others things, to reduce the risk of suicide by promoting mental health for all," she said.

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