Motivations for attempting suicide in mid- and late-life

Maria Alessi, Katalin Szanto, Alexandre Dombrovski
  • International Psychogeriatrics, June 2018, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/s1041610218000571

Motivations for attempting suicide in mid- and late-life

What is it about?

Suicide can be triggered by stressors such as interpersonal conflict, physical illness, or economic hardship, yet most people facing these stressors will never attempt suicide. Do dispositional vulnerabilities predict suicide in the context of specific stressors? We investigated the association between personality and subjective suicidal motivations in a two-study approach using an existing self-report investigating reasons for suicide (RASQ) and a semi-qualitative assessment of motivational states preceding attempts. Study 1 revealed a broad and non-specific pattern that attempters high in dysfunctional psychopathology were more likely to report self-oriented escape motives for suicide. Study 2 identified a putative pathway to suicide in men involving antagonism and the experience of defeat (i.e. powerlessness, poor coping to threats to autonomy/status). Our findings suggest that assessment of motivations, particularly motivational states, may be a more clinically relevant measure of reasons for suicide.

Why is it important?

Few studies on subjective motivations for suicide in older adult populations exist. Moreover, previous attempts to measure reasons for suicide have significant limitations and do not distinguish between different aspects of motivations, such as historical triggers and intended outcomes. In this study, we attempted to distinguish between motivations and intended outcomes of suicidal behavior by utilizing a content-driven approach to identify recurrent psychological themes in participants’ descriptions of the thoughts and feelings leading up to their attempt.


Maria Alessi
Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic

We hope to contribute to our clinical understanding of suicide in older adults by utilizing both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Suicide is a heterogeneous phenomenon and individuals’ subjective report of their motivations for attempting suicide is a valuable source of information illuminating the interplay of events, emotional states, and behavioral responses preceding suicidal behavior.

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The following have contributed to this page: Maria Alessi