Suicidal ideation is a risk factor for suicide attempt and completion. Cross-sectional or retrospective studies cannot capture the dynamic course and possible predictors of suicidal ideation as it occurs in daily life. This study utilizes an experience sampling paradigm to identify real-time predictors of suicidal ideation in inpatients with major depressive disorder. Thirty-one depressed patients admitted to a psychiatric unit were signaled by a mobile device to record suicidal ideation, affect, and other symptoms, multiple times a day over 1 week. Participants completed a total of 1350 questionnaires. Seventy-four percent of the sample reported suicidal ideation during the week. Time-lagged analyses revealed that momentary ratings of Sadness, Tension, and Boredom (as well as suicidal ideation itself) predicted subsequent suicidal thoughts in the following hours. Baseline severity of depression and past suicide attempts were both correlated with mean ideation severity during the week. A number of predictors identified in prior research (e.g. hopelessness) were unrelated to subsequent suicidal ideation in the current study. Momentary interventions that guide individuals through activities designed to reduce levels of Sadness, Tension, and Boredom in real-time (e.g., thought challenging, relaxation, behavioral activation) may be especially warranted.
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