Knowledge of suicide history, current depressive symptoms, and future suicide risk within couples


Research on suicide prevention and intervention has overwhelmingly focused on the suicidal individual. However, suicidal individuals exist within interpersonal relationships. This study tests 1) how accurately members of romantic couples know each other’s depression symptoms, suicide histories, and risk for future suicidal thoughts and behaviors and 2) whether couple-specifc factors moderate those associations. Participants were 43 mixed-sex couples (N = 86 individuals) recruited for a larger study of National Guard or Reserves members and their partners. Participants reported on their own depression symptoms, suicide history and expectation of future suicide risk, as well as their perceptions of their partners’ depression symptoms, suicide history and future suicide risk. Effects were tested for moderation by communication style and relationship satisfaction. Results suggest that many individuals knew about their partners’ depression symptoms and past suicidal ideation (77%). In contrast, fewer were aware of their partners’ future suicide ideation risk (44%) and the minority knew about past suicidal behavior (23%) or risk for future suicide attempt (14%). Associations were not moderated by positive or negative communication styles or relationship satisfaction. Taken together, these results suggest that while romantic partners share some parts of their suicide histories with each other, some aspects are kept private. Notably, regardless of communication style or relationship quality, results were consistent, suggesting that even couples in strong relationships may not be aware of each other’s suicide history and risk. Implications for the development of couples-based suicide prevention interventions are discussed.

In Behavior Research and Therapy

Full Citation:
May, A.M., Crenshaw, A.O., Leifker, F., Bryan, C.J., & Baucom, B.R.W. (2019). Knowledge of suicide history, current depressive symptoms, and future suicide risk within couples. Behavior Research and Therapy, 120, 103394.