New Delhi: Suicide is one of the most intriguing aspects of human nature as it always baffles researchers. Most suicide research to date has focused on establishing the prevalence and predictors of the presence or severity of suicidal thoughts/behaviours.
However, little research has documented the fundamental properties of suicidal thoughts/behaviours, such as when someone has a suicidal thought, how long do such thoughts last?
Documenting the basic properties of a phenomenon is necessary to understand, study, and treat it. This study found that elevated states of suicidal thinking lasted on average 1 to 3 h. These results provide the most detailed characterization to date of the temporal dynamics of suicidal thinking.
This study aims to identify the timescale of suicidal thinking, leveraging real-time monitoring data and a number of different analytic approaches. Participants were 105 adults with past week suicidal thoughts who completed a 42-d real-time monitoring study (total number of observations = 20,255).
Participants completed two forms of real-time assessments: traditional real-time assessments (spaced hours apart each day) and high-frequency assessments (spaced 10 min apart over 1 h). We found that suicidal thinking changes rapidly.
Both descriptive statistics and Markov-switching models indicated that elevated states of suicidal thinking lasted on average 1 to 3 h. Individuals exhibited heterogeneity in how often and for how long they reported elevated suicidal thinking, and our analyses suggest that different aspects of suicidal thinking operated on different timescales.
Continuous-time autoregressive models suggest that current suicidal intent is predictive of future intent levels for 2 to 3 h, while current suicidal desire is predictive of future suicidal desire levels for 20 h. Multiple models found that elevated suicidal intent has on average shorter duration than elevated suicidal desire. Finally, inferences about the within-person dynamics of suicidal thinking on the basis of statistical modelling were shown to depend on the frequency at which data was sampled.
For example, traditional real-time assessments estimated the duration of severe suicidal states of suicidal desire as 9.5 h, whereas the high-frequency assessments shifted the estimated duration to 1.4 h.
This research was supported by the Pershing Square Venture Fund for Research on the Foundations of Human Behavior, the Sydney DeYoung Foundation, and the Knox Fund at Harvard University. D.D.L.C. is supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1745303 and the National Institute of Mental Health under Grant F31MH130055. O.R. is supported by a Consolidator grant (grant agreement no. 865468) from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013). This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF or the National Institute of Mental Health.