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Arch Suicide Res. 2009;13(1):74-86. doi: 10.1080/13811110802572171.

Defense mechanisms and suicide risk in major depression.

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  • 1Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry, Jamaica, NY 11418, USA.


Past suicide attempt has been consistently reported to be the best predictor of future suicide attempt. The need to identify predictors that can be targets of therapy is of great importance. Coping styles and defense mechanisms have now been linked to suicide in numerous reports. In this study, we expand on past research by exploring differences in defense mechanism use between three groups: 1) without current suicide ideation/attempt; 2) with current suicide ideation/no attempt; and 3) with current suicide attempt. We also explored the contribution of covariates, such as symptom severity and past attempt. Seventy-five adult patients who were within 48 hours of hospital admission for current major depressive episode were recruited. Clinical interview was conducted to verify diagnosis and assess symptom severity. Patients completed the Defense Style Questionnaire within 48 hours of admission based on their current thoughts and beliefs. Logistic regressions were used to determine the best predictors of current suicide status. Consistently, the use of more image-distorting mechanisms was the best predictor of current suicide attempt. Symptom severity and past attempt were not significant predictors after controlling for influence of defense styles. Decreased use of image-distorting mechanisms in adult patients with major depressive disorder should be considered as a distinct target of therapy.

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