Suicide attempters’ memory traces of exposure to suicidal behavior: A qualitative pilot study
Ventrice, D., Valach, L., Reisch, T., & Michel, K.
Background: In the course of their lives individuals may encounter the phenomenon of suicide in various ways, for example, directly through suicidal behavior in the family or among peers; or indirectly through hearsay, the media, literature, etc.
Aims: The study investigates such memory traces (engrams) in patients with and without a suicide attempt.
Methods: Ten patients from a psychiatric crisis unit who had attempted suicide and ten patients without a history of suicidal behavior were interviewed with a narrative/semistructured interviewing technique. Interviews were video-recorded and fully transcribed. Stepwise reduction of the content was used to develop categories of recurrent memories and models of suicidal behavior.
Results: Suicide attempters reported more memories of direct exposure to suicidal behavior (e.g., witnessing a suicidal act) than did patients who had no history of attempted suicide. They also reported more own suicidal crises, but associated them more often with interpersonal problems than with depression. They considered suicide more often as normal behavior than nonattempters. The total number of suicide-related memories and their origins was remarkably similar in both groups.
Conclusions: The results suggest that direct exposure to suicidal behavior may leave engrams (memory traces) that increase an individual’s susceptibility to suicidal behavior.