Examination of Real-Time Fluctuations in Suicidal Ideation and Its Risk Factors: Results From Two Ecological Momentary Assessment Studies

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Abstract

Two studies examined 2 important but previously unanswered questions about the experience of suicidal ideation: (a) How does suicidal ideation vary over short periods of time?, and (b) To what degree do risk factors for suicidal ideation vary over short periods and are such changes associated with changes in suicidal ideation? Participants in Study 1 were 54 adults who had attempted suicide in the previous year and completed 28 days of ecological momentary assessment (EMA; average of 2.51 assessments per day; 2,891 unique assessments). Participants in Study 2 were 36 adult psychiatric inpatients admitted for suicide risk who completed EMA throughout their time in the hospital (average stay of 10.32 days; average 2.48 assessments per day; 649 unique assessments). These studies revealed 2 key findings: (a) For nearly all participants, suicidal ideation varied dramatically over the course of most days: more than 1-quarter (Study 1 = 29%; Study 2 = 28%) of all ratings of suicidal ideation were a standard deviation above or below the previous response from a few hours earlier and nearly all (Study 1 = 94.1%; Study 2 = 100%) participants had at least 1 instance of intensity of suicidal ideation changing by a standard deviation or more from 1 response to the next. (b) Across both studies, well-known risk factors for suicidal ideation such as hopelessness, burdensomeness, and loneliness also varied considerably over just a few hours and correlated with suicidal ideation, but were limited in predicting short-term change in suicidal ideation. These studies represent the most fine-grained examination of suicidal ideation ever conducted. The results advance the understanding of how suicidal ideation changes over short periods and provide a novel method of improving the short-term prediction of suicidal ideation.

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