Suicide in Schizophrenia: Risk Factors and Clozapine Treatment

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Suicide is the major cause of premature death in patients with schizophrenia. Among these patients, 40% report suicidal thoughts, 20% to 40% make unsuccessful suicide attempts, and 9% to 13% end their lives by suicide. Traditional antipsychotic drugs undertreat many schizophrenic patients and can produce serious side effects, such as tardive dyskinesia. Clozapine is the only antipsychotic drug that has been shown in controlled clinical trials to be effective in reducing both positive and negative symptoms in schizophrenic patients who fail to respond to typical neuroleptic drugs. The potential decrease in suicide among schizophrenic patients treated with clozapine is estimated to be as high as 85%. Treatment with clozapine is cost-effective, and the significant decrease in the risk of suicide far outweighs the very low risk of mortality from agranulocytosis. Clozapine should be considered for treatment of both neuroleptic-resistant and neuroleptic-responsive schizophrenic patients who have persistent suicidal thoughts or behavior.

J Clin Psychiatry 1998;59(suppl 3):15–20