Short Window Between Suicide Idea and Attempt
> 1/30/2009 2:06:48 PM

After someone commits suicide, their loved ones and counselors may be haunted by the thought that they might have been able to intervene in time. There has been a lot of debate about how detectable predictors of suicide are, and how much time there is for intervention. This last question has been clarified by a study by Dr. Eberhard Deisenhammer, published this month in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Dr. Deisenhammer interviewed 82 patients recovering at a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt less than 4 days previously. The patients were asked to describe the chain of thoughts that proximately led to their suicide attempt, and to estimate how many minutes passed between the first thought in this chain and the attempt. In addition, the patients were evaluated on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, the Beck Suicide Intent Scale, and the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale.


47.6% of the patients reported 10 minutes or less between first thought and attempt. This incredibly small window of time should relieve guilty thoughts that intervention was possible. There was no correlation between the size of this window and impulsiveness, age, gender, smoking status, previous attempt history, or relationship status, meaning that it might not have been possible to predict which of the patients was going to take more or less than 10 minutes.

82.9% of patients had their initial suicidal thought alone, and 86.6% were alone when they made the final decision to commit suicide. This makes it even less likely that loved ones or counselors would have been able to intervene. It would be difficult to ensure that potential suicides are not left alone for 10 minutes, but perhaps loved ones can take extra effort to stay close or available by phone in times of peak distress.

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