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Recent advances in differentiating suicide attempters from suicide ideators

Klonsky, E. David; Qiu, Tianyou; Saffer, Boaz Y.

Current Opinion in Psychiatry: January 2017 - Volume 30 - Issue 1 - p 15–20
doi: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000294
MOOD AND ANXIETY DISORDERS: Sidney H. Kennedy and Hans-Ulrich Wittchen

Purpose of review This article summarizes findings from recent studies (published since 2015) examining differences between suicide attempters and suicide ideators.

Recent findings Converging evidence suggests that the capability to attempt suicide (e.g., acquired capability, painful and provocative experiences, high tolerance for pain and distress) is higher in suicide attempters than suicide ideators. Other psychosocial and biological differences have also been identified but require replication.

Summary Recent literature reviews find that traditional risk factors for suicide – such as depression, hopelessness, most psychiatric disorders, and even impulsivity – robustly predict suicide ideation but poorly predict suicide attempts among ideators. To address this knowledge gap, studies are increasingly employing an ideation-to-action framework. This framework views the development of suicide ideation and the progression from ideation to potentially lethal attempts as distinct processes with distinct explanations and predictors. Converging evidence suggests that factors associated with diminished fear of pain, injury, and death can increase one's capability to attempt suicide and facilitate the progression from suicidal thoughts to suicidal acts. Recent studies have also identified other variables that may differentiate attempters from ideators, but these require replication. Theories of suicide positioned within the ideation-to-action framework provide testable and promising hypotheses about the progression from ideation to attempts. These include the Interpersonal Theory, Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model, and Three-Step Theory.

Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Correspondence to E. David Klonsky, PhD, 2136 West Mall, Department of Psychology, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. Tel: +1 604 822 5972; e-mail:

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