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Death construal in suicide Qiu, Tianyou

Abstract

Suicide attempts are a leading cause of global mortality and a significant public health problem. However, most identified risk factors for suicide predict suicidal ideation, but not attempts. How suicidal individuals construe death (i.e., “death construal”) may alter the nature of suicidal ideation and reduce the barriers to making a suicide attempt. The current project was the first to examine death construal in relations to suicidal ideation and attempts. Specifically, utilizing two samples (undergraduate sample [n = 549], and community sample [n = 288]), the current research (1) investigated whether fear of death distinguishes among those with a history of suicide attempts, those with a history of suicidal ideation, and non-suicidal participants; and (2) explored whether cognitions and other emotions about death and dying distinguish among those with a history of suicidal ideation, those with a history of suicide attempts, and non-suicidal participants. Additionally, participants in the undergraduate sample were followed up over a period of 1-2 months to (3) examine temporal stability of various death construal constructs, as well as their longitudinal relationships to wish to live. Results indicated that fear of death did not meaningfully distinguish those with a history of suicide attempts from those with a history of suicidal ideation. However, several death construal variables did consistently distinguish those with a history of suicidal ideation from non-suicidal individuals across samples. Specifically, conceptualizing death as annihilation distinguished those with a history of suicidal ideation from non-suicidal individuals, and predicted future decreases in wish to live at follow-up. Moreover, a specific emotion – feeling relieved about death and dying – also distinguished those with a history of suicidal ideation from non-suicidal individuals. Most death construal variables exhibited strong stability over a 1-2 months period. These results have important implications for understanding what contributes to the development of suicidal ideation and the escalation from ideation to attempts; death construal may be more important to understanding the former rather than the later. Furthermore, the aspects of death construal that most clearly distinguish individuals with and without suicidal ideation – relief from and annihilation of pain – may represent potential treatment targets in reducing suicidal ideation.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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