Chronic pain and suicide risk: A comprehensive review

Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2018 Dec 20;87(Pt B):269-280. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2017.08.020. Epub 2017 Aug 26.


Death by suicide is one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide. Because individuals with chronic pain are at least twice as likely to report suicidal behaviors or to complete suicide, it is of utmost importance to target which risk factors contribute the most to increasing suicidality. This comprehensive review aims to provide an update on research advancements relating to the identification of potential risk factors for suicidality in individuals with chronic pain. Supporting the results of prior reviews, we found robust evidence that chronic pain itself, regardless of type, was an important independent risk factor for suicidality. The only sociodemographic factor found to be associated with suicidality in individuals with chronic pain was being unemployed/disabled. Depressive symptoms, anger problems, harmful habits (e.g. smoking, alcohol misuse, illicit drugs), childhood or adulthood adversities, and family history of depression/suicide were all also identified as general risk factors. Regarding pain-related factors, sleep problems, poorer perceived mental health, concurrent chronic pain conditions, and more frequent episodes of intermittent pain, were all found to be predictors of suicidality. Unexpectedly, pain characteristics (e.g. type, duration, and intensity/severity) and physical status (e.g. pain interference or disability) were not related to suicide risk. We also identified promising new psychosocial factors (e.g. mental defeat, pain catastrophizing, hopelessness, perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness) associated with suicidality outcomes. A large number of these factors are amenable to change through targeted intervention, highlighting the importance of comprehensively assessing chronic pain patients at risk for suicide, while also incorporating a suicide prevention component into chronic pain management programs.

Keywords: Chronic pain; Physical functioning; Psychosocial factors; Suicidal ideation; Suicidality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*