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Positive psychological constructs have been associated with reduced suicidal ideation, and interventions to cultivate positive feelings have the potential to reduce suicide risk. This study compares the efficacy of a 6-week, telephone-based positive psychology (PP) intervention against a cognition-focused (CF) control intervention among patients recently hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideation or behavior.
A total of 65 adults with a current major depressive episode reporting suicidal ideation or a recent suicide attempt were enrolled from participating in-patient psychiatric units. Prior to discharge, participants were randomized to the PP (n = 32) or CF (n = 33) intervention. In both interventions, participants received a treatment manual, performed weekly PP (e.g. gratitude letter) or CF (e.g. recalling daily events) exercises, and completed weekly one-on-one telephone sessions over 6 weeks. Between-group differences in hopelessness (primary outcome), depression, suicidality and positive psychological constructs at 6 and 12 weeks were tested using mixed-effects models accounting for intensity of post-hospitalization psychiatric treatment.
Compared with PP, the CF intervention was associated with significantly greater improvements in hopelessness at 6 weeks (β = −3.15, 95% confidence interval −6.18 to −0.12, effect size = −0.84, p = 0.04), but not 12 weeks. Similarly, the CF intervention led to greater improvements in depression, suicidal ideation, optimism and gratitude at 6 and 12 weeks.
Contrary to our hypothesis, the CF intervention was superior to PP in improving hopelessness, other suicide risk factors and positive psychological constructs during a key post-discharge period among suicidal patients with depression. Further study of this CF intervention is warranted in populations at high suicide risk.
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