Suicidal mental imagery in psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents
Lawrence, H.R., Nesi, J., Burke, T.A., Liu, R.T., Spirito, A., Hunt, J., & Wolff, J.C.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and suicide rates in this population have increased in recent years. A critical step in preventing suicide is improving the accuracy of suicide risk assessment. Measurement of suicidal cognitions typically emphasizes assessment of verbal thoughts about suicide. Recent research suggests, however, that suicidal mental imagery, or mentally imagining suicide-related content, may be even more strongly associated with suicidal behavior. No research has evaluated suicidal mental imagery in adolescents, however. The present study evaluated suicidal mental imagery and suicidal verbal thoughts in a sample of adolescents (N = 159) admitted to an adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit. Of those adolescents who reported suicidal cognitions, 63.73% reported suicidal mental imagery. Adolescents who reported suicidal mental imagery had 2.40 greater odds of having made a suicide attempt, after accounting for history of suicidal verbal thoughts and relevant covariates. Findings suggest that suicidal mental imagery should be directly assessed when evaluating suicide risk, and that treatments may be optimized by targeting both suicidal verbal thoughts and suicidal mental imagery.