Pain Conditions and Suicide Attempts in Military Veterans: A Case-Control Design

Pain Med. 2021 Dec 11;22(12):2846-2850. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnab287.


Objective: Specific pain conditions such as back pain and migraines are associated with increased risk of suicide mortality after accounting for key covariates. The purpose of the current study was to assess the associations of specific pain conditions with suicide attempts.

Design: Case-control.

Setting: Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Subjects: Individuals who utilized VHA services with a record of a suicide attempt (N = 30,051) in Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014 were identified and propensity score matched with controls with no such record (N = 30,051).

Methods: Data on pain condition diagnoses (back pain, arthritis, migraine, headaches, psychogenic pain, neuropathy, fibromyalgia) psychiatric diagnoses, medical comorbidity, and demographics were extracted from VHA medical record and suicide surveillance datasets.

Results: Unadjusted logistic regression analyses found that each of the pain conditions were associated with suicide attempts (e.g., back pain: Odds ratio [OR]=3.25, 95% Confidence Interval [CI]=3.12-3.39). After adjusting for mental health conditions, medical comorbidity, and each of the pain conditions, the effects were attenuated across pain conditions; however, remained significant for each of the pain conditions except for fibromyalgia. Specifically, back pain (OR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.19-1.32), migraines (OR = 1.29, 95% CI = 1.14-1.46), headaches (OR = 1.33, 95% CI = 1.19-1.48), and neuropathic pain (OR = 1.52, 95% CI = 1.33-1.74) were each associated with increased odds of a suicide attempt. Fibromyalgia was the only pain condition associated with re-attempt status (OR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.08-1.45).

Conclusions: Specific pain conditions are associated with increased odds of suicide attempts even after including key covariates.

Limitations: Limitations of the study include the retrospective study design and lack of examination into additional variables including prescription opioid use, pain intensity, and pain duration. The case-control design also limits the ability to draw causal or temporal conclusions.

Keywords: Back Pain; Mental Health; Migraines; Pain; Suicide Attempts; Veterans.

MeSH terms

  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide, Attempted*
  • Veterans*