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Study Links Anxiety, Nervousness to Suicide

Higher Suicide Risk for Men Reporting Anxiety Than for Women
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WebMD Health News

Aug. 10, 2005 -- In a Swedish study, people who reported feeling anxious and nervous were more likely to attempt suicide in the next five to 10 years.

The study included more than 34,500 men and women living in Sweden. Researchers asked if they were bothered by anxiety, nervousness, or uneasiness -- and if so, how troublesome those emotions were.

The researchers included Gunilla Ringbäck Weitoft of the Centre for Epidemiology at the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. The findings appear in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Study's Findings

The vast majority of men and women reported no such emotional problems.

Yet those who reported severe problems of nervousness, anxiety, and uneasiness had about double to triple the risk of death during the study period. Only 2% of the men and 3.6% of the women reported severe problems with anxiety, uneasiness, or nervousness.

Men who had reported severe problems with anxiety, nervousness, or unease were nine times more likely to attempt suicide over the next five years than men who didn't report such problems.

Women reporting severe anxiousness, nervousness, or unease were 3.4 times as likely to attempt suicide as those who didn't report those problems in the survey.

The researchers made adjustments for long-standing illnesses that those people may also have been facing.

Rising Anxiety

Anxiety, nervousness, and unease have become more commonly reported in Sweden over the last 20 years or so, write the researchers.

What that means isn't totally clear. Are Swedish people more anxious? Or are they just more willing to admit it? Rising reports of anxiety may be an "alarm signal that society should take seriously," write the researchers.

It's also not certain why nervousness and anxiety were more strongly linked to suicide attempts in men than in women. Are women more open about those feelings, or do such emotions affect men and women differently?

Besides calling for more studies, the researchers urge health care workers to "pay attention to patient anxiety." They don't mention if Swedish and U.S. suicide patterns are similar.

When Anxiety Becomes a Disorder

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. Anxiety disorders are different.

"These disorders fill people's lives with overwhelming anxiety and fear. Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event such as a business presentation or a first date, anxiety disorders are chronic, relentless, and can progressively grow worse if not treated," states the web site of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Anxiety disorders affect about 19 million U.S. adults, according to the NIMH. Like many mental illnesses, anxiety can be treated. See a doctor or mental health professional for any concerns.

If Someone You Know Mentions Suicide

In the U.S., suicide was the No. 8 cause of death for men and the No. 19 cause of women's deaths in 2001. More women report attempting suicide, but more men complete suicide, states the NIMH web site.

The NIMH offers this advice for people who may know someone considering suicide:

  • If someone is in imminent danger of harming themselves, don't leave them alone. Call for emergency help, and limit access to firearms or other lethal means of committing suicide.
  • If someone tells you they're thinking about committing suicide, take their distress seriously, listen without judging, and help them get to a professional for evaluation and treatment.

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