Digital phenotyping of suicidal thoughts

Kleiman, E. M., Turner, B. J., Fedor, S., Beale, E. E., Picard, R. W., Huffman, J. C., & Nock, M. K. "Digital phenotyping of suicidal thoughts." Depression and anxiety, April 2018


1 Background

To examine whether there are subtypes of suicidal thinking using real‐time digital monitoring, which allows for the measurement of such thoughts with greater temporal granularity than ever before possible.

2 Methods

We used smartphone‐based real‐time monitoring to assess suicidal thoughts four times per day in two samples: Adults who attempted suicide in the past year recruited from online forums (= 51 participants with a total of 2,889 responses, surveyed over 28 days; ages ranged from 18 to 38 years) and psychiatric inpatients with recent suicidal ideation or attempts (n = 32 participants with a total of 640 responses, surveyed over the duration of inpatient treatment [mean stay = 8.79 days], ages ranged 23–68 years). Latent profile analyses were used to identify distinct phenotypes of suicidal thinking based on the frequency, intensity, and variability of such thoughts.

3 Results

Across both samples, five distinct phenotypes of suicidal thinking emerged that differed primarily on the intensity and variability of suicidal thoughts. Participants whose profile was characterized by more severe, persistent suicidal thoughts (i.e., higher mean and lower variability around the mean) were most likely to have made a recent suicide attempt.

4 Conclusions

Suicidal thinking has historically been studied as a homogeneous construct, but using newly available monitoring technology we discovered five profiles of suicidal thinking. Key questions for future research include how these phenotypes prospectively relate to future suicidal behaviors, and whether they represent remain stable or trait‐like over longer periods.

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