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SRI Magazine 2018

SRI Magazine 2018

Study shines light on perinatal suicide

Pregnancy and the entirety of the first postpartum year demand attention

Pregnant woman's belly


In Ontario, one in 19 maternal deaths is a suicide. The provincial suicide rate among women in the perinatal stage, the period immediately before and after giving birth, however, has remained unknown—until now.

A team of researchers co-led by psychiatrist Dr. Sophie Grigoriadis, a scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute, investigated perinatal suicide rates in Ontario between 1994 and 2008. They linked coroner death records with health administrative databases to do this. Of the 1,914 women who died by suicide during this 15-year stretch, 51 were perinatal.

Presented in the August 2017 edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the findings show that the perinatal suicide rate was 2.58 per 100,000 live births. Further, suicide accounted for more than 5% of deaths in perinatal women in Ontario. It was most common in the third trimester of pregnancy, and nine to 12 months after birth. Suicide rates were highest in remote and rural regions, and women were more likely to die from violent means. Additionally, only about 40% of women who died by suicide had contact with mental health professionals within 30 days before their deaths.

The results stress the importance of risk assessment. They also emphasize the need for health care providers to focus mental health intervention efforts and suicide surveillance on pregnancy and the entirety of the first postpartum year.