Motor and Cognitive Difficulties Found in Suicide Attempters

Cognitive impairment and executive dysfunction are characteristics of depression. People who are depressed have difficulty thinking clearly, making decisions, and remembering things. Elevated levels of dysfunction can put someone at increased risk for suicidal ideation or behavior. But until recently, few studies have delved into the differences between suicide attempters’ and non-attempters’ cognitive and psychological functioning to see if they can give clinicians a clue as to which depressed clients might be most at risk for future suicide attempts.

John G. Keilp of the Department of Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology at New York State Psychiatric Institute explored these factors in a new study. Using a sample of 80 depressed participants with no attempt history, 72 with suicide attempt histories, and 56 with neither suicidal history of depression, Keilp conducted an extensive series of cognitive and executive functioning tests. He found that there were unique differences between the groups of participants. “All of the depressed subjects performed worse than healthy volunteers on motor, psychomotor, and language fluency tasks,” said Keilp. The depressed suicide attempters had poorer scores on the memory and attention tasks when compared to the depressed non-attempters. But there was no difference between the depressed groups on the remaining executive functions tested, including impulse control and abstract learning. Among the attempters, those who did so through extremely violent means had the lowest scores on most of the executive function tests.

Keilp believes that perhaps the deficits in working memory found in attempters were the result of slower cognitive processing and not limited memory capacity. In support of this theory, he did find that all of the depressed participants had lower psychomotor processing speeds and delayed reactions. Future work should address this outcome and test this theory further. Until then, Keilp hopes these findings highlight the importance of examining all cognitive, psychological and executive functioning risk factors in clients with depression, especially those with a history of prior suicide attempts.

J, G. Keilp, et al. Neuropsychological function and suicidal behavior: Attention control, memory and executive dysfunction in suicide attempt. Psychological Medicine 43.3 (2013): 539-51. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 3 Feb. 2013.

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  • Reesa Meyer

    February 12th, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing this information with all of your readers.
    This is certainly not something that I would think has been talked about a lot before but that sure seems to point to an indication that one might have that something terrible could be brewing for someone.
    Having lost a brother to suicide many years ago, I know that the pain of this experience is something that very rarely goes away for these families. You live every day wondering if there was something more that you should have been able to see or to do to prevent it from happening.
    So this will at least show some families some hope, that there are some predictors and if the right person is looking and treating it could possibly save a life.

  • ginny

    February 13th, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    but you won’t necessarily know this until someone makes a suicide attempt- it’s not like this would be something that someone would necessarily look for until afterwards

  • Lisa

    February 13th, 2013 at 2:51 PM

    Not all those wid depression attempt suicide.what if some of those that do are actually driven to it by their lack of ability?not just on an interior health log but as in feeling bad about themselves…that has been the cause of quite a few people,hasn’t it?

  • Mike

    February 15th, 2013 at 11:47 PM

    Suicide is always a curse.Not only does it end one life but also leaves many others with questions and wonder if they could have done something to prevent that.If they can predict and identify the reasons and thereby prevent such a thing then that would be wonderful.i hope they conduct more research in this domain and are able to help more and more people make a better decision.

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