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Impulsivity and Suicidality in Adolescent Inpatients


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, and impulsivity has emerged as a promising marker of risk. The present study tested whether distinct domains of impulsivity are differentially associated with suicide ideation, plans, and attempts. Adolescents (n = 381; boys = 106, girls = 275) aged 13-19 years (M = 15.62, SD = 1.41) were recruited from an acute, residential treatment program. Within 48 h of admission to the hospital, participants were administered structured clinical interviews assessing mental health disorders and suicidality. Following these interviews, participants completed self-report questionnaires assessing symptom severity and impulsivity. Consistent with past research, an exploratory factor analysis of our 90-item impulsivity instrument resulted in a three-factor solution: Pervasive Influence of Feelings, Feelings Trigger Action, and Lack of Follow-Through. Concurrent analysis of these factors confirmed hypotheses of unique associations with suicide ideation and attempts in the past month. Specifically, whereas Pervasive Influence of Feelings (i.e., tendency for emotions to shape thoughts about the self and the future) is uniquely associated with greater suicidal ideation, Feelings Trigger Action (i.e., impulsive behavioral reactivity to emotions) is uniquely associated with the occurrence of suicide attempts, even after controlling for current psychiatric diagnoses and symptoms. Exploratory gender analyses revealed that these effects were significant in female but not male adolescents. These findings provide new insight about how specific domains of impulsivity differentially increase risk for suicide ideation and attempts. Implications for early identification and prevention of youth suicide are discussed.

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