Personality and reports of suicide ideation among depressed adults 50 years of age or older

Marnin J Heisel, Paul R Duberstein, Kenneth R Conner, Nathan Franus, Anthony Beckman, Yeates Conwell
Journal of Affective Disorders 2006, 90 (2-3): 175-80

BACKGROUND: Accuracy in patient reports of suicide ideation is a concern in clinical assessment, given that some patients deny suicide ideation even when suicidal. Despite this concern, there is little research on the psychological processes driving reported suicide ideation in at-risk patients.

METHODS: A cross-sectional design was used to examine the association of personality and suicide ideation in a clinical sample of 134 depressed adults 50 years and older. Patients completed a structured diagnostic interview, an interviewer-rated measure of current suicide ideation and self-report measures of personality (NEO-Personality Inventory Revised; NEO-PI-R) and hopelessness. The main outcome variable in logistic regression analyses was suicide ideator status; covariates included comorbid psychopathology, hopelessness and physical illness burden. Predictors were Neuroticism and Openness to Experience (OTE) scores on the NEO-PI-R.

RESULTS: Elevated OTE and neuroticism were associated with suicide ideation in unadjusted analyses; OTE was also associated with suicide ideation in adjusted regression analyses.

LIMITATIONS: This study used a cross-sectional methodology with depressed patients 50 years or older; it is possible that patients' depression severity may have influenced their responses to personality measures. Prospective studies of personality vulnerability to future suicide ideation are warranted.

CONCLUSIONS: Elevated neuroticism increases the likelihood of reporting suicide ideation, just as it may enhance risk for suicidal behavior and death by suicide. The pattern for openness is markedly different. Although elevated openness increases the likelihood of reporting suicide ideation, previous research has shown that it may decrease risk of death by suicide, suggesting that the personality-mediated expression of suicide ideation may be adaptive in certain contexts. In contrast, low levels of openness may mute reports of suicide ideation in at-risk patients and confer risk for poor outcomes by potentially undermining clinician vigilance.


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