JOURNAL ARTICLE

Toward a clinical model of suicidal behavior in psychiatric patients

J J Mann, C Waternaux, G L Haas, K M Malone
American Journal of Psychiatry 1999, 156 (2): 181-9
9989552

OBJECTIVE: Risk factors for suicide attempts have rarely been studied comprehensively in more than one psychiatric disorder, preventing estimation of the relative importance and the generalizability of different putative risk factors across psychiatric diagnoses. The authors conducted a study of suicide attempts in patients with mood disorders, psychoses, and other diagnoses. Their goal was to determine the generalizability and relative importance of risk factors for suicidal acts across diagnostic boundaries and to develop a hypothetical, explanatory, and predictive model of suicidal behavior that can subsequently be tested in a prospective study.

METHOD: Following admission to a university psychiatric hospital, 347 consecutive patients who were 14-72 years old (51% were male and 68% were Caucasian) were recruited for study. Structured clinical interviews generated axis I and axis II diagnoses. Lifetime suicidal acts, traits of aggression and impulsivity, objective and subjective severity of acute psychopathology, developmental and family history, and past substance abuse or alcoholism were assessed.

RESULTS: Objective severity of current depression or psychosis did not distinguish the 184 patients who had attempted suicide from those who had never attempted suicide. However, higher scores on subjective depression, higher scores on suicidal ideation, and fewer reasons for living were reported by suicide attempters. Rates of lifetime aggression and impulsivity were also greater in attempters. Comorbid borderline personality disorder, smoking, past substance use disorder or alcoholism, family history of suicidal acts, head injury, and childhood abuse history were more frequent in suicide attempters.

CONCLUSIONS: The authors propose a stress-diathesis model in which the risk for suicidal acts is determined not merely by a psychiatric illness (the stressor) but also by a diathesis. This diathesis may be reflected in tendencies to experience more suicidal ideation and to be more impulsive and, therefore, more likely to act on suicidal feelings. Prospective studies are proposed to test this model.

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