Risk Factors for the Transition from Suicide Ideation to Suicide Attempt: Results from the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS)

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Prior research has shown that most known risk factors for suicide attempts in the general population actually predict suicide ideation rather than attempts among ideators. Yet clinical interest in predicting suicide attempts often involves the evaluation of risk among patients with ideation. We examined a number of characteristics of suicidal thoughts hypothesized to predict incident attempts in a retrospective analysis of lifetime ideators (N = 3,916) drawn from a large (N = 29,982), representative sample of United States Army soldiers. The most powerful predictors of first nonfatal lifetime suicide attempt in a multivariate model controlling for previously known predictors (e.g., demographics, mental disorders) were: recent onset of ideation, presence and recent onset of a suicide plan, low controllability of suicidal thoughts, extreme risk-taking or “tempting fate,” and failure to answer questions about the characteristics of one’s suicidal thoughts. A predictive model using these risk factors had strong accuracy (area under the curve [AUC] = .93), with 66.2% of all incident suicide attempts occurring among the 5% of soldiers with highest composite predicted risk. This high concentration of risk in this retrospective study suggests that a useful clinical decision support model could be constructed from prospective data to identify those with highest risk of subsequent suicide attempt.

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