A Systematic Review of Neuromodulation Treatment Effects on Suicidality

Front Hum Neurosci. 2021 Jun 25:15:660926. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.660926. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: Neuromodulation is an important group of therapeutic modalities for neuropsychiatric disorders. Prior studies have focused on efficacy and adverse events associated with neuromodulation. Less is known regarding the influence of neuromodulation treatments on suicidality. This systematic review sought to examine the effects of various neuromodulation techniques on suicidality. Methods: A systematic review of the literature from 1940 to 2020 following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guideline was conducted. Any reported suicide-related outcome, including suicidal ideation, suicide intent, suicide attempt, completed suicide in reports were considered as a putative measure of treatment effect on suicidality. Results: The review identified 129 relevant studies. An exploratory analysis of a randomized controlled trial comparing the effects of sertraline and transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) for treating depression reported a decrease in suicidal ideation favoring tDCS vs. placebo and tDCS combined with sertraline vs. placebo. Several studies reported an association between repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and improvements in suicidal ideation. In 12 of the studies, suicidality was the primary outcome, ten of which showed a significant improvement in suicidal ideation. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and magnetic seizure therapy was also shown to be associated with lower suicidal ideation and completed suicide rates. There were 11 studies which suicidality was the primary outcome and seven of these showed an improvement in suicidal ideation or suicide intent and fewer suicide attempts or completed suicides in patients treated with ECT. There was limited literature focused on the potential protective effect of vagal nerve stimulation with respect to suicidal ideation. Data were mixed regarding the potential effects of deep brain stimulation on suicidality. Conclusions: Future prospective studies of neuromodulation that focus on the primary outcome of suicidality are urgently needed. Systematic Review Registration: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=125599, identifier: CRD42019125599.

Keywords: deep brain stimulation; electroconvulsive therapy; repetitive transcranial magnetic simulation; suicide; transcranial direct current stimulation; vagal nerve stimulation.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review