Suicidal Thinking as Affect Regulation

Daniel D.L. Coppersmith*, Yael Millgram, Evan M. Kleiman, Rebecca G. Fortgang, Alexander J. Millner, Madelyn R. Frumkin, Kate H. Bentley, Matthew K. Nock

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nine percent of people worldwide report thinking about suicide at some point during their lives. A fundamental question we currently lack a clear answer to is: why do suicidal thoughts persist over time? One possibility is that suicidal thoughts serve adaptive functions for people who experience them.We tested whether suicidal thinking may serve as a form of affect regulation. In a real-time monitoring study among adults with recent suicidal thoughts (N = 105), we found that participants often endorsed using suicidal thinking as a form of affect regulation. The occurrence of suicidal thinking was followed by decreased negative affect. However, when assessing the direction of the relationship between suicidal thinking and negative affect, we also found positive bidirectional associations between them. Finally, using suicidal thinking as a form of affect regulation predicted the frequency and severity of suicidal thinking at later time points. These findings may help explain the persistence of suicidal thoughts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-395
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
National Institute ofMental HealthF31MH124291, K23MH120436
Pershing Square Venture Fund
Sydney DeYoung Foundation
National Science FoundationDGE-1745303
National Institute of Mental HealthF31MH130055
Harvard University


    • emotion regulation
    • negative affect
    • suicidal thinking
    • suicide


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