Reasons for suicide attempts in a clinical sample of active duty soldiers


Background: Self-reported reasons for suicide attempts were examined in a sample of active duty soldiers who had attempted suicide using a functional approach that classifies suicidal behaviors into four primary functions of reinforcement: automatic negative (AN-R; to reduce aversive internal experiences), automatic positive (AP-R; to generate desired internal experiences), social negative (SN-R; to avoid aversive contextual demands), and social positive (SP-R; to generate desired environmental contexts). Based on previous theory and research, the authors hypothesized that soldiers would attempt suicide primarily to reduce aversive internal experiences (i.e.; AN-R). Methods: 72 soldiers (66 male, 6 female; 65.3% Caucasian, 9.7% African-American, 2.8% Asian, 2.8% Pacific Islander, 4.2% Native American, and 9.7% other; age M=27.34, SD=6.50) were interviewed using the Suicide Attempt Self Injury Interview to assess suicidal intent, method, lethality, and reasons for attempting suicide. Results: Soldiers endorsed attempting suicide for both automatic and social reasons, with multiple functions being endorsed in 95% of attempts. AN-R was endorsed in 100% of suicide attempts, and was primary to other functions. Suicidal intent was weakly correlated with AN-R, AP-R, and SN-R functions (rs<.22), and medical lethality was very weakly correlated with only the SP-R function (r=.18). Limitations: Small sample size and retrospective self-report methodology. Conclusions: Soldiers attempt suicide primarily to alleviate emotional distress. Reasons for attempting suicide do not correlate strongly with suicidal intent or medical lethality. © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Journal of Affective Disorders