HEALTH / WELL-BEING

Social Problem Solving Moderates Emotion Reactivity in Predicting Suicide Ideation Among U.S. Veterans

Article

Suicide is a significant public health problem among U.S. veterans.  This article suggests that while under stress, the propensity to emotionally react strongly that can lead to higher levels of suicide ideation can be attenuated by one’s ability to effectively cope with or problem solve the circumstances that initially engender and/or maintain the stress. This suggests that interventions that foster one’s SPS, such as problem-solving therapy, may be a particularly effective means of reducing suicide risk among U.S. veterans.

Abstract

Suicide is a significant public health problem among U.S. veterans. A recent Department of Veterans Affairs report, for example, indicates that 20 veterans commit suicide each day. Among the general population, strong emotion reactivity (ER) to stressful events, as well as one's social problem-solving (SPS) ability, each has been found to be independent predictors of suicide risk. The authors attempted to determine the generalizability of such findings to a veteran population, as well as hypothesizing that SPS would moderate the relationship between ER and suicide ideation. One hundred-seventy-two veterans (140 men; 32 women) responded to an online survey that requested completion of the following measures: Emotion Reactivity Scale, Social Problem-Solving Inventory—Revised, Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation, and PTSD Checklist for DSM-5. Results of a hierarchical regression analysis indicated that after controlling for certain demographic variables (age, gender, combat experience) and posttraumatic stress disorder symptomatology, SPS was found to moderate ER in predicting suicide ideation (β = −.15, SE = .004, F = 3.92, p = .048). Secondary analyses further indicated that veterans who previously attempted suicide, when compared to an age- and sex-matched, non-suicidal control group, reported significantly higher levels of three dimensions of ER (sensitivity, intensity, persistence) and significantly higher levels of two of five assessed dimensions of SPS (negative problem orientation, impulsivity/carelessness). Whereas ER and SPS each were independently associated with suicide ideation, the more important finding involved the moderating role of SPS. This suggests that while under stress, the propensity to emotionally react strongly that can lead to higher levels of suicide ideation can be attenuated by one's ability to effectively cope with or problem solve the circumstances that initially engender and/or maintain the stress. This suggests that interventions that foster one's SPS, such as problem-solving therapy, may be a particularly effective means of reducing suicide risk among U.S. veterans.

Full Reference

Nezu, A.M., Nezu, C.M., Stern, J.B., Greenfield, A.P., Diaz, C., 2017. Social Problem Solving Moderates Emotion in Predicting Suicide Ideation Among U.S. Veterans. Military Behavioral Health, 5(4), pp417-426.