Implicit identification with death predicts change in suicide ideation during psychiatric treatment in adolescents.
Glenn, C., Kleiman, E., Coppersmith, D., Santee, A., Esposito, E., Cha, Nock, M. & Auerbach, R.
Background: Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are major public health concerns in youth. Unfortunately, knowledge
of reliable predictors of suicide risk in adolescents is limited. Promising research using a death stimuli version of the
Implicit Association Test (Death IAT) indicates that stronger identification with death differs between adults with and
without a history of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and uniquely predicts suicide ideation and behavior. However,
research in adolescents is lacking and existing findings have been mixed. This study extends previous research by
testing whether implicit identification with death predicts changes in suicide ideation during psychiatric treatment in
adolescents. Methods: Participants included 276 adolescents, ages 13–19, admitted to a short-term residential
treatment program. At hospital admission and discharge, adolescents completed the Death IAT and measures of
recent suicidal thoughts. Results: At admission, implicit identification with death was associated with recent suicide
ideation, but did not differ between those who engaged in prior suicidal behavior and those who did not.
Prospectively, adolescents’ implicit identification with death at admission significantly predicted their suicide
ideation severity at discharge, above and beyond explicit suicide ideation. However, this effect only was significant for
adolescents with longer treatment stays (i.e., more than 13 days). Conclusions: Implicit identification with death
predicts suicidal thinking among adolescents in psychiatric treatment. Findings clarify over what period of time
implicit cognition about death may predict suicide risk in adolescents.