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Suicide risk higher for some types of thinkers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Suicide risk

We all want to be aware and even plan for future adverse events. But some people are thinkers who focus on things that may never happen. A new study shows people who have distorted thoughts about future catastrophes have a higher risk of suicide.

The research suggests if a person's thoughts can be changed suicide attempts might be thwarted.

Shari Jager-Hyman of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in the US. Jager-Hyman led the study, published in Springer’s journal Cognitive Therapy and Research that found unique thinking patterns among people at risk for suicide.

Distorted thinking and hopelessness a common thread

Jager-Hyman and her team found people who were most likely to commit suicide are more prone to firmly believe "bad things" will happen in the future.

They are also more likely to have distorted thoughts about their own self-worth, compare themselves to others negatively and give themselves derogatory labels.

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The study authors say the finding lends support to past findings that suicidal personalities have unique ways of thinking about things that stem from interpreting things and processing stimuli incorrectly.

The study

The study is the first to use the Inventory of Cognitive Distortions. The evaluation tool is a 69-item questionnaire designed to help certain clinicians measure cognitive distortions in people who recently attempted suicide.

Included were 168 participants from emergency departments or psychiatric inpatient units in Philadelphia. Among the group, 111 had attempted suicide within the past 30 days. The other 57 had not attempted the act within the past two years but were undergoing emergency psychiatric treatment.

“To prevent suicides, therapists would benefit from directly targeting patients’ thoughts of hopelessness in clinical interventions,” says Jager-Hyman. “A cognitive approach can help patients evaluate their beliefs that negative outcomes will inevitably occur, and show them how to entertain other possible options. This can help to minimize patients’ thoughts of hopelessness, help them to cope better, and ideally decrease their suicidal ideation and behaviors.”

The study authors explain suicides are on the rise in the US accounting for 40,000 deaths each year. Helping patients correct distorted thoughts could help lower risk of suicide.

Jager-Hyman, S. et al. (2014). Cognitive Distortions and Suicide Attempts. Cognitive Therapy and Research, DOI 10.1007/s10608-014-9613-0.
March, 2014