Desire for death is not generally considered a harbinger of more severe suicidal behavior and is not routinely included in suicide research and assessment interviews. We aimed to compare desire for death and suicidal ideation as clinical markers for suicide attempts.
Using data from two nationally representative surveys (n=42,862 and n=43,093 respectively), we examined whether desire for death predicts suicide attempts. We compared the odds ratio (OR) and “Number Needed to be Exposed for one additional person to be Harmed” [NNEH] for lifetime suicide attempts among those with desire for death but no suicidal ideation; those with suicidal ideation but no desire for death, and those with both desire for death and suicidal ideation, compared to those with neither desire for death nor suicidal ideation.
The risk for lifetime suicide attempt was similar among those with lifetime desire for death with no suicidal ideation and those with lifetime suicidal ideation with no desire for death. Respondents with both lifetime desire for death and suicidal ideation had the highest risk for lifetime suicide attempts.
Cross-sectional design and self-reported suicidal ideation/attempts are viewed as limitations of this study.
Querying individuals on desire for death has the same value as assessing suicidal ideation to examine risk for suicide attempt. A combination of desire for death and suicidal ideation is the best predictor for suicide attempts. This is of high clinical relevance since we suggest that desire for death should be included as a potential clinical marker of suicidality in clinical assessments.