Mood instability and impulsivity as trait predictors of suicidal thoughts

Psychol Psychother. 2016 Dec;89(4):435-444. doi: 10.1111/papt.12088. Epub 2015 Dec 31.


Objectives: Impulsivity, the tendency to act quickly without adequate planning or concern for consequences, is a commonly cited risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviour. There are many definitions of impulsivity and how it relates to suicidality is not well understood. Mood instability, which describes frequent fluctuations of mood over time, is a concept related to impulsivity that may help explain this relationship. The purpose of this study was to determine whether impulsivity could predict suicidal thoughts after controlling for mood instability.

Methods: This study utilized longitudinal data from the 2000 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (N = 2,406). There was a time interval of 18 months between the two waves of the study. Trait impulsivity and mood instability were measured with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis II Personality Disorders. Logistic regression analyses were used to evaluate baseline impulsivity and mood instability as predictors of future suicidal thoughts.

Results: Impulsivity significantly predicted the presence of suicidal thoughts, but this effect became non-significant with mood instability included in the same model.

Conclusions: Impulsivity may be a redundant concept when predicting future suicidal thoughts if mood instability is considered. The significance is that research and therapy focusing on mood instability along with impulsivity may be useful in treating the suicidal patient.

Practitioner points: Mood instability and impulsivity both predict future suicidal thoughts. Impulsivity does not predict suicidal thoughts after controlling for mood instability. Assessing and treating mood instability could be important aspects of suicide prevention and risk management.

Keywords: impulsivity; mood instability; personality; suicidal ideation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology