Background: Most earlier studies of hopelessness as a risk factor for suicidal behavior were based on either clinical or restricted samples. Using a longitudinal study design with a community sample of more than 3,000 participants, we aimed to examine if hopelessness was a long-term predictor of suicidal behaviors.
Methods: Using longitudinal data from the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) Program, we assessed the association of hopelessness at baseline and incident suicidal behaviors in the 13-year follow-up period, adjusting for the presence of depression and substance use disorders. Suicide behaviors studied included completed suicide, self-reported attempted suicide, and suicide ideation.
Results: Hopelessness was predictive of all three types of suicidal behaviors in the follow-up period, even after adjustment. Persons who expressed hopelessness in 1981 were 11.2 times as likely to have completed suicide over the 13-year follow-up interval (95% confidence interval [1.8, 69.1]). The association between suicidality and hopelessness was stronger and more stable than the association of suicidality with the presence of depression and substance use disorders.
Conclusion: Hopelessness was an independent risk factor for completed suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation. Intervention strategies that lower hopelessness may be effective for suicide prevention.