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