Indirect self-destructive behavior and overt suicidality in patients with complicated grief

Katalin Szanto, M Katherine Shear, Patricia R Houck, Charles F Reynolds, Ellen Frank, Krissa Caroff, Russell Silowash
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2006, 67 (2): 233-9

BACKGROUND: Complicated grief is associated with increased suicidal ideation in samples of bereaved individuals; however, suicidal behavior has not been assessed in these patients. Additionally, there are no reports of suicidality among help-seeking individuals with complicated grief. Therefore, we examined suicidal behavior and its correlates in 149 patients who signed informed consent statements to participate in a National Institute of Mental Health-funded treatment study of complicated grief.

METHOD: All patients met criteria for complicated grief (Inventory of Complicated Grief score>or=25). Suicidality was assessed using a structured clinical interview administered prior to beginning treatment. Participants also completed self-report questionnaires and interview assessment measures rating the presence or absence of DSM-IV Axis I diagnosis and symptom severity. Data were gathered between April 2001 and April 2004.

RESULTS: Thoughts of wanting to die following the death of a loved one were reported by 65% of participants. More than half of this group (38% of the study sample) engaged in self-destructive behavior, including 9% who made a suicide attempt and 29% who engaged in indirect suicidal behavior. In a multiple logistic regression model, only the severity of complicated grief symptoms (p<.0001) and history of a suicide attempt (p<.02) were significantly associated with postloss suicidal behavior.

DISCUSSION: Consistent with reports of non-help-seeking bereaved people, a high rate of individuals seeking treatment for complicated grief endorsed a wish to die. Notably, 13% of this group made at least 1 suicide attempt, and 44% engaged in indirect self-destructive behavior. Given its frequency, this behavior should be included in assessment of bereaved people.

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