WEDNESDAY, May 31, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- New research confirms that psychiatric patients are at high risk for suicide immediately after being discharged from a mental health care facility, and that risk can remain high for years.
"Discharged patients have suicide rates many times that in the general community," said a team led by Matthew Michael Large of the University of New South Wales in Australia.
One psychiatrist in the United States said the study highlights the need to help patients long after they've been discharged from care.
"Thoughts of suicide are not normal -- like chest pain, they indicate a medical emergency that needs immediate treatment," said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in New York City.
"Changes in behavior -- disturbances in sleep, appetite or level of functioning at work or school -- are also warning signs that someone needs help," he said.
The researchers behind the new study point out that according to the World Health Organization, suicide remains among the top 20 causes of death worldwide.
In the new study, Large's team looked at data from 100 studies conducted over more than 50 years. The studies involved nearly 18,000 suicides involving patients discharged from psychiatric facilities.
The suicide rate was highest within three months after discharge and among patients who'd been admitted to the facility already expressing suicidal ideas or behaviors.
The risk for suicide did decline somewhat over time, Large and colleagues said, but was still significant even after 10 years or more, according to the study, which was published May 31 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
According to the researchers, this means that "efforts aimed at suicide prevention should start while patients are in hospital, and the period shortly after discharge should be a time of increased clinical focus."
The intervention of people who care for the person at risk is key, Borenstein added.
"We can prevent suicide by being vigilant about friends and loved ones, and willing to openly discuss mental illness," he said.
Dr. Ami Baxi directs adult inpatient services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She agreed that the study "emphasizes the importance of closely monitoring patients who were recently discharged from a hospital and patients who were admitted with suicidal ideation or behaviors."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on suicide prevention.