Background. Recent research studies on the psychological processes underlying suicidal behaviour have highlighted deficits in social problem-solving ability, and suggest that suicide attempters may, in addition, be passive problem-solvers. The aim of this study was to examine problem-solving in suicide attempters (including passivity) and to see whether the deficits are mood-dependent.
Method. Two groups, a suicide attempter group and a non-suicidal psychiatric control group completed measures of depression, hopelessness, suicidal ideation and social problem-solving ability shortly after admission, and again 6 weeks later. In addition, a non-psychiatric control group provided baseline data at a single time point.
Results. The suicide attempter group displayed poorer problem-solving ability than matched psychiatric controls and this difference persisted despite change in mood. However, although suicidal patients were more passive in their problem-solving style than non-psychiatric controls, they were not significantly more passive than psychiatric controls. Problem-solving did not change with improving mood.
Conclusions. Although passivity is not unique to suicidal patients, in combination with the smaller number and less effective alternatives generated, it may increase vulnerability.