Measuring Acquired Capability for Suicide Within an Ideation-to-Action Framework

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Objective: Despite the large literature on risk factors for suicide-related outcomes, few studies have examined risk for acting on suicidal thoughts among suicide ideators. The current study aimed to fill this gap by examining the role of acquired capability, as well as its hypothesized facilitator, painful and provocative events (PPEs), as motivators for behavior among individuals along the suicide continuum. Method: Undergraduates reporting suicidal ideation, suicide plans, suicide attempts without intent to die, or suicide attempts with intent to die (N = 546) completed a measure of acquired capability for suicide, as well as assessments of exposure to PPEs. Results: Our findings demonstrated that acquired capability for suicide did not distinguish between individuals falling along the ideation-to-action spectrum. Among the several PPEs assessed, the frequency of nonsuicidal self-injury, and the presence of childhood emotional abuse, physical abuse, and physical neglect each significantly differentiated between groups, with individuals having a history of a suicide attempt with the intent to die reporting the highest levels. Conclusions: These findings implicate the PPEs that may be most important to assess in determining suicide risk, and, further, call into question the utility of acquired capability in differentiating between individuals along the suicide continuum.

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