Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Some groups of terminally ill patients are twice as likely to die by suicide, data show

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: (Published 21 April 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o1014

Rapid Response:

ONS data confirms that suicide prevention is crucial

Dear Editor,

The recent data from the Office of National Statistics (1) essentially confirms previous work that the risk of suicide is greater in the first year after the diagnosis of a serious illness but reduces thereafter.(2-4) This knowledge has long been crucial to identify the presence of depression in order to provide the necessary care to prevent suicide and improve the quality of life for both patients and their families.

But in his news item Hurley (5) quotes a belief that ‘traditional suicide prevention measures are not an appropriate response’ in patients diagnosed with life-limiting or life-threatening illness. It is disappointing that the BMJ should promote a view that sets aside the depression, anxieties and fears of patients with many years of worthwhile life ahead of them and offers death as the solution. That is not compassion, it is abandonment.

1) Suicides among people diagnosed with severe health conditions, England: 2017 to 2020. London:: ONS.
2) Du L, Shi HY, Yu HR, Liu XM, Jin XH, Yan-Qian, Fu XL, Song YP, Cai JY, Chen HL Incidence of suicide death in patients with cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. [Review] Journal of Affective Disorders. 2020; 276: 711-719.
3) Saad AM, Gad MM, Al-Husseini MJ, AlKhayat MA, Rachid A, Alfaar AS, Hamoda HM Suicidal death within a year of a cancer diagnosis: A population-based study. Cancer, 2019; 125(6): 972-979.
4) Henson KE, Brock R, Charnock J, Wickramasinghe B, Will O, Pitman A Risk of Suicide After Cancer Diagnosis in England. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019; 76(1): 51-60.
5) Hurley R. Some groups of terminally ill patients are twice as likely to die by suicide, data show. BMJ 2022; 377

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 April 2022
Claud Regnard
Honorary conultant in Palliative Medicine
St. Oswald's Hospice