While suicide-specific psychosocial interventions often teach coping skills to suicidal individuals, little is known about the strategies that individuals intuitively use on their own to cope with suicidal ideation in everyday life.
The present study used Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) to examine the effectiveness of specific coping strategies individuals use naturally to reduce the intensity of suicidal thinking.
Fifty participants endorsing suicidal ideation with co-morbid mood disorder and borderline personality disorder completed one week of EMA. Real-time use, perceived effectiveness of 7 common coping strategies and intensity of suicidal ideation were assessed at 6 epochs (i.e., timepoints) each day.
Participants reported using an average of 4 coping strategies per epoch. Factor analysis (FA) (exploratory followed by confirmatory FA) identified two coping factors: one that included distraction/positive activity-based strategies (i.e., keeping busy, socializing, positive thinking, and doing something good for self) and a second that contained mindfulness-oriented strategies (i.e., finding perspective, calming self, and sitting with feelings until they pass). Although participants perceived all coping strategies as effective, only strategies in the first factor, distraction/positive activity-oriented strategies, lowered the intensity of suicidal thoughts in everyday life. Furthermore, baseline suicidal ideation was inversely related to overall use of coping strategies and particularly use of coping strategies that were found to lead to lowered suicidal ideation.
Distraction/positive activity based strategies are helpful in decreasing suicidal ideation in the short-term. These findings can help clinicians advise patients about strategies to use to cope with suicidal thoughts to prevent acting on them in a crisis and they also have the potential to inform development of psychosocial interventions to prevent suicide.