To examine rates of suicidality in primary care patients with somatoform disorders and to identify factors that might help to understand and manage active suicidal ideation in these patients.
We conducted a cross-sectional study screening 1645 primary care patients. In total, 142 patients fulfilled the criteria for a somatoform disorder. Suicidality and illness perceptions were assessed in these patients.
Of the 142 patients, 23.9% had active suicidal ideation during the previous 6 months; 17.6% had attempted to commit suicide in the past, the majority after onset of the somatoform symptoms. We tested two models with suicidal ideation as a dependent variable. In the first model, comorbid symptoms of depression (odds ratio [OR] = 1.17, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.03–1.33) and previous suicide attempts (OR= 3.02, 95% CI = 1.06–8.62) were significantly associated with suicidal ideation. Comorbid symptoms of anxiety did not yield significance. Illness perceptions and age of onset of the symptoms were then added to this model to test the role of somatoform-specific factors in addition to previous factors. In the complete model, comorbid symptoms of depression (OR = 1.15, 95% CI = 1.00–1.32) and dysfunctional illness perceptions (OR = 1.06, 95% CI = 1.01–1.11) were independently associated with active suicidal ideation, whereas the other factors did not yield significance.
According to our data, suicidality seems to be a substantial problem in primary care patients with somatoform disorders. Dysfunctional illness perceptions may play a vital role in the understanding and management of active suicidal ideation in these patients, in addition to more established factors.