Nightmares and Suicide in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: The Mediating Role of Defeat, Entrapment, and Hopelessness

Donna L Littlewood, Patricia A Gooding, Maria Panagioti, Simon D Kyle
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: JCSM: Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine 2016, 12 (3): 393-9

STUDY OBJECTIVES: Although nightmares appear to be related to suicidal behaviors, the mechanisms which underpin this relationship are unknown. We sought to address this gap by examining a multiple mediation hypothesis whereby nightmares were predicted to have an indirect effect on suicidal behaviors through perceptions of defeat, entrapment, and hopelessness.

METHODS: Data were collected from 91 participants who had experienced trauma and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nightmares were measured by summing the frequency and intensity ratings of relevant items on the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale. Participants also completed questionnaire measures of suicidal behavior, hopelessness, defeat, and entrapment. Given the interrelations between insomnia, PTSD, and suicide, a measure of insomnia was included as a covariate. Furthermore, analyses were conducted with and without those participants who had comorbid depression.

RESULTS: Suicidal behaviors were higher in those participants who experienced nightmares (62%), in comparison to those who did not (20%). Bootstrapped analyses provided support for the hypothesized multistep mediational model. Specifically, nightmares were both directly and indirectly associated with suicidal behaviors, through perceptions of defeat, entrapment, and hopelessness, independent of comorbid insomnia and depression.

CONCLUSIONS: For the first time we show that the relationship between nightmares and suicidal behaviors is partially mediated by a multistep pathway via defeat, entrapment, and hopelessness. Clinically, our work highlights the importance of monitoring and targeting nightmares and perceptions of defeat, entrapment, and hopelessness when working with clients who have experienced trauma.

COMMENTARY: A commentary on this article appears in this issue on page 289.

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