Suicide and Seizures: A National Cohort Study in Veterans

Yarden Bornovski, Ebony Jackson-Shaheed, Stephanie Argraves, Adrianna Hitchins, Benjamin Tolchin, Daniela Galluzzo, Kei Hoi Cheung, Joseph Goulet, Melissa Skanderson, Cynthia A. Brandt, Mary Jo Pugh, Hamada Altalib

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


ObjectiveThe increased rate of suicide associated with epilepsy has been described, but no studies have reported the rates of suicide and suicide-related behavior (SRB) associated with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNESs).MethodsThis retrospective cohort study analyzed data from October 2002 to October 2017 within Veterans Health Administration services. Of 801,734 veterans, 0.09% had PNES, 1.37% had epilepsy, and 98.5% had no documented seizures. Veterans coded for completed suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation were identified from electronic health records. The primary measure was the suicide-specific standardized mortality ratio (SMR) based on the number of suicide deaths and CDC national suicide mortality database. A Poisson regression was used to calculate the relative risk (RR) of suicide across groups.ResultsA total of 1,870 veterans (mean age [SD] 33.76 [7.81] years) completed suicide. Veterans with PNES (RR = 1.75, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.84-4.24) and veterans with epilepsy (RR = 2.19, 95% CI 2.10-2.28) had a higher risk of suicide compared with the general veteran population. Veterans with PNES or epilepsy had a higher risk of suicide and SRB if they had comorbid alcohol abuse, illicit drug abuse, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and use of psychotropic medications. Conversely, those who were married or attained higher education were at a decreased risk. The SMR for completed suicide for PNES, epilepsy, and the comparison group was 2.65 (95% CI 1.95-5.52), 2.04 (95% CI 1.60-2.55), and 0.70 (95% CI 0.67-0.74), respectively.ConclusionsVeterans with seizures (both psychogenic and epileptic) are at a greater risk of death by suicide and SRB than the comparison group. These findings suggest that although the pathophysiology of PNES and epilepsy is different, the negative impact of seizures is evident in the psychosocial outcomes in both groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)372-376
Number of pages5
JournalNeurology: Clinical Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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