Catastrophic thoughts about the future linked to suicidal patients

Suicide has been on the increase recently in the United States, currently accounting for almost 40,000 deaths a year. A new studyshows that one successful effort to avoid suicide attempts would be to focus on correcting the distorted, catastrophic thoughts about the future that are held by many who try to kill themselves. Such thoughts are unique and characteristic to those who attempt suicide, says Shari Jager-Hyman of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in the US. Jager-Hyman led a study, published in Springer’s journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, about how distorted thoughts influence suicidal behaviors in patients who seek emergency psychiatric treatment.

The research team recruited a relatively large and ethnically diverse group of 168 participants from emergency departments or psychiatric inpatient units in Philadelphia. Of these, 111 people had attempted suicide in the 30 days prior to the study. The other 57 participants were receiving emergency psychiatric treatment, but had not tried to commit suicide in the two years prior to the study. The research study is the first to use the Inventory of Cognitive Distortions, a 69-item self-report questionnaire designed to be used among various clinical populations, to measure cognitive distortions in people who have recently tried to commit suicide.

The study found that people who attempt suicide are more likely to have distorted thoughts than others. These include the way in which they think about their own self-worth, how they negatively compare themselves to others, and how they generally slap derogatory labels on themselves. This is true even when the effects of depression and feelings of hopelessness are taken into account. The findings add weight to the many theories presented over decades that suicidal people have unique cognitive styles by which they misinterpret or wrongly process experiences or stimuli.

Uniquely, people who made suicide attempts were found to be especially prone to so-called “fortune telling,” through which they predict and firmly believe that bad things will happen in the future. Fortune telling is akin to catastrophizing, and does not consider other, more probable outcomes. Importantly, when the researchers took thoughts of hopelessness into account, fortune telling was no longer strongly linked to suicidal attempts. Jager-Hyman and her colleagues believe this is because fortune telling and hopelessness may be overlapping constructs or ideas which share the fear of negative future events.

“To prevent suicides, therapists would benefit from directly targeting patients’ thoughts of hopelessness in clinical interventions,” says Jager-Hyman. “A cognitive approach can help patients evaluate their beliefs that negative outcomes will inevitably occur, and show them how to entertain other possible options. This can help to minimize patients’ thoughts of hopelessness, help them to cope better, and ideally decrease their suicidal ideation and behaviors.” Reference: Jager-Hyman, S. et al. (2014). Cognitive Distortions and Suicide Attempts. Cognitive Therapy and Research, DOI 10.1007/s10608-014-9613-0.

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11 thoughts on “Catastrophic thoughts about the future linked to suicidal patients”

  1. I find this article very interesting and it is more relevant to us as young people. Indeed many people are afraid of the future,they do not know what to expect and many believe that bad thing are going to happen which is why they end up taking a drastic decision of shortening their lives.The feeling of being worthless is another factor which causes people to attempt suicide,they think they do not deserve to live maybe because of their past mistakes.
    I think to prevent this cycle of suicide, we must not ignore the signs,usually people with suicidal tendencies like isolating themselves from other people. They also like to say things like ” I must just just die” or ” i do not deserve to live”, so when a person starts talking like that we must not ignore them but we must find professional help before it is too late.
    I hope this matter can be addressed and it stops.

  2. Suicide is a major problem all over the world, more prominent in teenagers and young adults. Every year there is a rise in suicide related deaths, and it seems like the human race isn’t doing enough to prevent this. The only way to prevent suicides is to correct the “catastrophic thoughts” about the future-characteristic of suicidal people.

    Therapists and psychologists should directly target patients’ thoughts that tend to make them think of taking their own lives. They should also strive to improve patients’ self-esteem so as to drive out such thoughts,thus decreasing suicidal behaviours.
    This article is very informative and should and people,especially teens, should be exposed to it. This way everyone can be aware of this preventable cause of death. If this could be done then the statistics of deaths due to suicide would decrease dramatically.

  3. I liked this article because suicide affects all people. The effects of suicide on the loved ones of the deceased can be devastating. It’s good to see research being done to help prevent suicide. I think more effort should be put in to stopping bullying in schools. Being bullied from a young age destroys a child’s self-confidence causing psychological health problems later in life. Individuals who were bullied seem to have a lack of self-esteem and see themselves as worthless, this can lead to suicide later in life.

  4. Indeed this is a very interesting article. It is relevant to the issue faced by many societies. Suicide truly is more on the psychological side rather than external. It is not caused by the negative events that occur to a person but by how that person takes conceives the events. Now I understand why most suicide cases are of teenagers, teenagers often have “distorted and catastrophic thoughts”.A friend of mine committed suicide because she was told that her son is terminally ill.My friend believed that she can not survive without her son so committing suicide seemed right for her. I believe that if her thoughts were channeled right, she would not have committed suicide. I strongly believe that this article can change the statistics of suicide worldwide. Since now that it is known that some causes of suicide are due distorted and catastrophic thoughts, I believe that this issue will be resolved and hopefully there will less cases of suicide.

  5. This is a very interesting article. I was glad to see an article about this, because I have not seen a lot of research being done about suicides and how to prevent them. Depression and suicides are a very big problem in our society, a problem I think society should be made more aware of. I definitely believe looking at the thought and feelings of a person considering suicide or that has attempted suicide is the best way to go. This can help us to understand better what pushes a person to these extremes. I will definitely be following the research that is being done about this.

  6. A lot of effort is being centered on trying to correct the distorted i.e. to help victims get away from negative thinking which lead to suicidal thoughts hence suicide.I think it is quite impressive the steps that have been taken.In my own opinion the involvement of ethical diverse groups is really effective because it take into account the strength of one’s beliefs on a cultural basis.At the same time l feel it should not only be about correcting the distorted.Rather,it should be about complete awareness to every human being.We are all victims of suicidal thoughts at some point.I think it depends on how much we can take in and for how long we can take it in before it gets to such a delicate state.

  7. I agree that the results of the study are going to be extremely helpful in the prevention of suicides in the future. In response to Fellin Lottering, I imagine those thoughts to be in relation to the viewpoint of an individual getting severely distorted by the general events and possibly even medical conditions that lead to depression. For example, I think that the individual starts to believe that the bad things that happen to them are the best they deserve. Because they start to question their worth and contributions to society their perspective’s are skewed. By changing a perspective, I believe it’s completely possible to change and save a life.

  8. As a young adult in this generation we seem to be surrounded by more and more obstacles not only as science and technology grow but as the pressures from our family and our peers to improve our lives through education and work increase. When presented with an opportunity that has failed, we are then cornered by negativity mostly from ourselves. Thoughts of never getting further in our careers or our studies start to descend upon our thoughts of the future and with it, a depressive emotion occurs. Some can bring themselves out of this state but others will only fall deeper until they feel that the only solution is suicide. I agree with this article with respect to dealing with the patients emotions. By helping them understand that there will be failure but that there is a way through it, it will help these patients cope with their future obstacles and feelings of hopelessness. There is hope for the depressed after all.

  9. It is pleasing to know that diligent efforts are being made to minimize the incidence of suicide. With the increasing levels of suicide statistics in recent years, it is extremely disheartening to know that individuals experience such extreme levels of hopelessness that they feel they do have any other option but to resort to suicide. By assisting in decreasing patients’ levels of hopelessness, therapists will not only decrease suicidal behaviour and ideation, but will also contribute to patients developing mechanisms to suppress and deal with future negative feelings that may develop. Families will also benefit by not having to lose their loved ones to the dreadful jaws of suicide.

  10. As a youth living in a day and age filled with judgmental beings, it is safe to say it is no surprise that people take their own lives due to having these feelings of unworthiness. The suicide rate in the US is alarming! I believe that extreme awareness measures should be put in place so that these suicidal individuals would not assume a “catastrophic” fate for themselves.
    I somewhat agree with the self-report questionnaire designed by the research team to measure cognitive distortions among people who have recently tried to commit suicide as i believe that it tends to serve as a way to assist emergency psychiatrists to understand the reason behind suicidal behavior, but in my opinion it is also vague to an extent. I strongly believe that these psychiatrists should go the extra mile and do a background check on these individuals and not just take their answers from a questionnaire and work from there. People with suicidal tendencies need to be understood and examined in a rather delicate manner due to their sensitivity and negative thoughts towards themselves.
    i believe that no one deserves to look at themselves in a negative light for any reason in the world. Feelings of depression and hopelessness are undoubtedly common in a lifetime but they certainly should not be a shadow over your head constantly to an extent whereby you think less of yourself which leads to the act of actually attempting suicide.
    It did occur to me that suicidal individuals believe that they will have a catastrophic future but i certainly did not think it was a large contributing factor.
    This article was rather informative and i find it quite interesting, i hope readers understand my point of view on this issue.

  11. The results of this study may be a milestone in the battle to eliminate suicide in society. Suicide effects everyone in something in li3 and it cause tremendous pain and suffering for those left behind . Using this knowledge, that catastrophic and distorted thoughts may lead to suicidal tendencies, to treat suicidal tendencies could lead to a drastic decrease in suicide cases. However, to effectively use this knowledge, we will need to know which thoughts fall under the category “distorted and catastrophic”.

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