Suicide ideation versus suicide attempt: Examining overlapping and differential determinants in a large cohort of patients with depression and/or anxiety

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2021 Feb;55(2):167-179. doi: 10.1177/0004867420951256. Epub 2020 Aug 27.


Objective: Individuals with a depressive and/or anxiety disorder are known to have an elevated risk of suicide. However, these diagnoses alone are insufficient at differentiating patients with suicide ideation that attempt suicide from those that do not. Few studies examined such differences in an ideation-to-action framework. Using this framework, extensive multivariate testing was performed to examine differences between suicidal patients with and without a suicide attempt.

Method: Data were from 1576 respondents with a depressive and/or anxiety disorder, participating in the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety. Logistic regression analyses were used to analyze associations between sociodemographic, clinical, personality, and psychosocial risk factors and suicide ideation and attempt.

Results: Patients with suicide ideation could be uniquely distinguished from non-suicidal patients by more years of education, presence of a depressive disorder (vs anxiety disorder) and higher introversion. Patients with suicide ideation and a past suicide attempt could be uniquely distinguished from non-suicidal patients by a younger age of onset, a lifetime alcohol use disorder, more external locus of control and lower levels of social support. Within the group of patients with suicide ideation, patients with a suicide attempt were more likely to have childhood trauma and lower education, and be of non-Western descent than patients with suicide ideation and no past attempt.

Conclusion: This study found that although various clinical, personality and psychosocial characteristics distinguish patients with suicide ideation from non-suicidal patients, many of these often-cited factors do not distinguish patients with a suicide attempt from those who only think about suicide. However, childhood trauma, lower education and non-Western descent could aid in detecting suicide attempt risk among patients with suicide ideation.

Keywords: Suicide ideation; anxiety disorder; depressive disorder; risk factors; suicide attempt.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Depression
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide, Attempted*