Background: Data from a sample of suicidal young adults were used to examine the relevance of the kindling and behavioral sensitization models to suicide attempts. Three predictions derived from the kindling and sensitization models were tested: a higher number of suicide attempts would be associated with (a) lower levels of pre-attempt stress; (b) higher suicidal intent; and (c) greater lethality of the current attempt.
Methods: Measures of life stress and suicidal intent were collected among 123 young adults who attempted suicide just prior to entering treatment. Data on the total number of suicide attempts and the lethality of the current attempt were also collected.
Results: Number of suicide attempts was significantly and positively associated with pre-suicidal crisis life stress and suicidal ideation, but was not significantly associated with lethality of the most recent attempt.
Limitations: The young sample drawn from a military medical setting may not accurately represent suicide attempters in the general population. Only total negative life events in the year preceding suicide attempt were examined, not the increase in negative life events immediately prior to suicide attempt.
Conclusions: The kindling and sensitization models may not accurately describe the progression of recurrent suicide attempts.