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Does asking about suicide and related behaviours induce suicidal ideation? What is the evidence?

  • T. Dazzi (a1), R. Gribble (a2), S. Wessely (a2) and N. T. Fear (a2)
Abstract

There is a commonly held perception in psychology that enquiring about suicidality, either in research or clinical settings, can increase suicidal tendencies. While the potential vulnerability of participants involved in psychological research must be addressed, apprehensions about conducting studies of suicidality create a Catch-22 situation for researchers. Ethics committees require evidence that proposed studies will not cause distress or suicidal ideation, yet a lack of published research can mean allaying these fears is difficult. Concerns also exist in psychiatric settings where risk assessments are important for ensuring patient safety. But are these concerns based on evidence? We conducted a review of the published literature examining whether enquiring about suicide induces suicidal ideation in adults and adolescents, and general and at-risk populations. None found a statistically significant increase in suicidal ideation among participants asked about suicidal thoughts. Our findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce, rather than increase suicidal ideation, and may lead to improvements in mental health in treatment-seeking populations. Recurring ethical concerns about asking about suicidality could be relaxed to encourage and improve research into suicidal ideation and related behaviours without negatively affecting the well-being of participants.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
* Address for correspondence: N. T. Fear, KCMHR, Weston Education Centre, 10 Cutcombe Road, King's College London, London SE5 9RJ, UK. (Email: nicola.t.fear@kcl.ac.uk)
References
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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