A lifetime of challenges: Real-life decision outcomes in early-and late-onset suicide attempters


Background: People who have attempted suicide display suboptimal decision-making in the lab. Yet, it remains unclear whether these difficulties tie in with other detrimental outcomes in their lives besides suicidal behavior. We hypothesize that this is more likely the case for individuals who first attempted suicide earlier than later in life.
Methods: A cross-sectional case-control study of 310 adults aged ≥ 50 years (mean: 63.9), compared early- and late-onset attempters (first attempt < 55 vs. ≥ 55 years of age) to suicide ideators, non-suicidal depressed controls, and non-psychiatric healthy controls. Participants reported potentially avoidable negative decision outcomes across their lifetime, using the Decision Outcome Inventory (DOI). We employed multi-level modeling to examine group differences overall, and in three factor-analytically derived domains labeled Acting Out, Lack of Future Planning, and Hassles.
Results: Psychopathology predicted worse decision outcomes overall, and in the more serious Acting Out and Lack of Future Planning domains, but not in Hassles. Early-onset attempters experienced more negative outcomes than other groups overall, in Lack of Future Planning, and particularly in Acting Out. Late-onset attempters were similar to depressed controls and experienced fewer Acting out outcomes than ideators.
Limitations: The cross-sectional design precluded prospective prediction of attempts. The assessment of negative outcomes may have lacked precision due to recall bias.
Conclusions: Whereas early-onset suicidal behavior is likely the manifestation of long-lasting decision-making deficits in several serious aspects of life, late-onset cases appear to function similarly to non-suicidal depressed adults, suggesting that their attempt originates from a more isolated crisis.

Journal of Affective Disorders