An investigation of the interactive effects of the capability for suicide and acute agitation on suicidality in a military sample


Background According to the interpersonal theory of suicide (1, 2), the difficulties inherently associated with death by suicide deter many individuals from engaging in suicidal behavior. Consistent with the notion that suicide is fearsome, acute states of heightened arousal are commonly observed in individuals immediately prior to lethal and near-lethal suicidal behavior. We suggest that among individuals who possess elevated levels of the capability for suicide, the heightened state of arousal experienced during periods of acute agitation may facilitate suicidal behavior in part because it would provide the necessary energy to approach a potentially lethal stimulus. Among individuals who are low on capability, the arousal experienced during agitation may result in further avoidance. Methods In the present project we examine how acute agitation may interact with the capability for suicide to predict suicidality in a large military sample (n = 1,208) using hierarchical multiple regression. Results Results were in line with a priori hypotheses: among individuals high on capability, as agitation increases, suicidality increases whereas as agitation increases among individuals low on capability, suicidality decreases. Results held beyond the effects of thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and suicidal cognitions. Conclusions Beyond further substantiating the link between agitation and suicide, findings of the present study provide evidence for the construct validity of the acquired capability as well as offer initial evidence for moderating role of capability on the effect of agitation on suicide. Limitations of the current study highlight a need for future research that improves upon the techniques used in the present study. Implications for science and practice are discussed.

Publication Title

Depression and Anxiety