Tinnitus, like many chronic conditions, has a mental health component to it. It’s not just a matter of coping with the symptoms. It’s finding the inner fortitude and resiliency to do it on a regular basis without knowing whether they will ever go away permanently. Unfortunately, for some, tinnitus can lead to depression.
According to a new study conducted by the Stockholm Public Health Cohort (SPHC) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, chronic tinnitus has been linked with an increase in suicide rates, especially among women.
What’s the link between tinnitus and suicide?
In order to establish any kind of connection between tinnitus and suicide, researchers at the SPHC surveyed about 70,000 people (large sample sizes are necessary to generate reliable, scientific results).
According to the responses they got back:
- 22.5% of the respondents reported having tinnitus.
- 9% of women with severe tinnitus had attempted suicide.
- 5.5% of men with severe tinnitus had attempted suicide.
- Only 2.1% of respondents reported that their tinnitus had been diagnosed by a hearing specialist.
The differences in suicide rates between men and women are clear, leading the researchers to call out the heightened risks for women. These findings also suggest that a large portion of people experiencing tinnitus don’t get a diagnosis or professional help. (If you have tinnitus, see a hearing specialist–there are treatments and ways to manage tinnitus.)
Are these findings universal?
It’s tempting to take these numbers and simply graft them over onto the rest of the world’s population (something that no self-respecting scientist would do, by the way–it can be exceptionally difficult to predict constants between diverse populations). Doing that, though, would lead to a lot of assumptions about tinnitus and suicide.
This study must be replicated in other parts of the world, with different population sizes, and ruling out other variables before we can make any broad generalizations. In other words, there’s still a lot of scientific work to do. That said, we shouldn’t ignore the problem in the meantime.
What does this research mean?
While this research indicates an elevated risk of suicide for women with severe tinnitus, the study did not draw clear conclusions as to why women were at greater risk of suicide than men. There are a variety of possible explanations, of course, but there’s nothing inherent in the data that point towards any of those explanations as more or less likely.
It’s important to draw attention to a few things:
Not all tinnitus is “severe”
First and foremost, the vast majority of those who have noticed tinnitus do not have “severe” tinnitus. That doesn’t mean moderate or slight cases of tinnitus do not present their own challenges. But the statistical correlation between suicide and women with tinnitus was most pronounced (and, thus, denotes the greatest risk) with those who rated their tinnitus as severe.
Low numbers of respondents were diagnosed
Perhaps the next most startling conclusion in this study is that relatively few individuals were officially diagnosed with tinnitus, even though they presented moderate to severe symptoms.
This is, perhaps, the most important area of opportunity–and one of the best ways to lower suicide or other health risks at the same time. That’s because treatment for tinnitus can present many overall benefits:
- Those who are treated for tinnitus can learn to better manage their symptoms.
- Tinnitus is often a sign of hearing loss, which can (and should) be treated.
- Some treatments also help with depression.
Tinnitus treatment and your mental health
In other words, if you want to protect your mental health from the possible disruption caused by tinnitus, the first step is to properly diagnose your hearing problems. That’s because a diagnosis–and the ensuing treatment–can help ensure you’re staying social and involved and that you have access to the therapies and coping mechanisms.
Knowing the answers to all those questions, you might have–knowing the way forward–can help you ensure that your quality of life is not diminished because of chronic tinnitus.
If you’re experiencing depression or tinnitus, seek professional help.
Check out our other articles on tinnitus.