Small study reveals link between suicide and people’s perception of time


If we are to have a chance to change rising suicide rates, the researchers say we need to understand more about how suicide progresses – the developments that lead from suicidal thoughts to the act that ends a person’s life.

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An important part of that progression is time. How long does suicidal ideation persist in a person’s mind? How long will it take before these thoughts lead a person to attempt suicide? And how does an individual’s perception of time influence things?

In a new study, researchers investigated these questions, surveying a group of more than 280 participants.

The cohort included people who had recently attempted suicide, people with depression who are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, patients with non-suicidal depression, and healthy controls with no history of mental illness or drug abuse.

Participants took a variety of tests, designed to measure things like their level of depression and anxiety, but also protocols that measured levels of impulsivity, and a time-estimating task that probes how fast or slow an individual perceives spending time. weather.

In the results, the researchers found that among people who had attempted suicide, the amount of time they contemplated suicide was dominated by two distinct patterns: those who thought about suicide for less than 5 minutes and those who thought about suicide for more than 5 minutes. three hours.

Similarly, the interval of suicidal action (the time difference between the decision to commit suicide and the resulting attempt) showed a significant split in the data, with most patients reporting less than 5 minutes or more than three hours.

In addition to this, the researchers found that the perception of time deceleration was related to the severity of the suicidal ideation, and people who contemplated suicidal thoughts for up to three hours showed a greater time deceleration in the results of the time estimation. .

“The main take-home message is that a significant number of people who attempt suicide do so impulsively,” first author and psychiatrist Ricardo Caceda of Stony Brook University told PsyPost.

“A second point is that during a suicidal crisis, people tend to experience time very slowly, which probably contributes to the worsening of the experience of intense psychological distress.”

Although there are limits to what we can conclude from the results, the researchers suggest that a greater sense that time passes slowly could reflect a kind of “derealization or depersonalization-type phenomenon,” with similar alterations in the perception of time in previous research with soldiers and in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The experience of slowing down or dilation of time in suicidal patients, probably triggered by overwhelming psychological pain, may in turn worsen the perception of the inescapability of psychological pain,” the researchers write in their study.

“It could be hypothesized that the high point of a suicidal crisis could be a dissociative-type state, triggered by overwhelming psychological pain and characterized by a slower perception of time.”

Beyond hypotheses about the effects of time perception, the researchers hope that their new data on times related to suicidal contemplation and the interval of suicidal action can help inform new clinical insights, giving clinicians more awareness. time-related risk factors, which might one day help. improve suicide prevention strategies.

Findings are reported in European neuropsychopharmacology.

If this story has raised concerns or you need to speak to someone, check this list to find a 24/7 crisis hotline in your country and ask for help.

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