New research provides evidence of a link between time perception and suicide. The study, published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, found that many patients who recently attempted suicide had an altered sense of time, which may have exacerbated their distress.
(If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or follow this link to their online chat.)
“This project represents the overlap of two subjects that fascinated me,” said lead researcher Ricardo Caceda, an associate professor at Stony Brook University and staff psychiatrist at the Northport VA Medical System.
“The first is suicide, and why and how a person decides to take his or her own life. As a clinician, I see how suicide can devastate the lives of suicide victims and their loved ones, and we try to use the available approaches to prevent it. The second subject is time, one of the dimensions that govern our universe, and how humans are influenced by it, perceive and make sense of it.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed 57 individuals who recently attempted suicide, 131 individuals suffering from suicidal ideation, 51 individuals with non-suicidal depression, and 48 healthy controls. The participants completed assessments of depression, self-harm, impulsivity, and executive function — along with two measures of time perception.
The researchers found that those who had recently attempted suicide showed heightened levels of impulsivity compared with depressed patients without recent suicidal behavior.
Time perception was associated with the duration of the suicidal process and suicidal ideation severity, which “is suggestive of derealization- or depersonalization-type phenomena,” the researchers said. “It could be hypothesized that the height of a suicidal crisis could be a dissociative-like state, triggered by overwhelming psychological pain and characterized by a slowed perception of time.”
In particular, participants who attempted suicide within three hours of making the decision to kill themselves tended to have a slower perception of time compared to those who waited a longer period of time.
“The main take home message is that a considerable number of persons who attempt suicide do so impulsively. For example, about 50% of individuals who attempt suicide do it within 10 minutes of making the decision to kill oneself. A second point is that during a suicidal crisis individuals tend to experience time very slowly, likely contributing to the worsening of the experience of intense psychological distress,” Caceda told PsyPost.
The study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“This work was done in adult patients suffering from depression, but suicide can occur in many other populations,” Caceda noted. “The next research question to be addressed is to elucidate the brain mechanisms underlying these abnormalities in time perception.”
“Suicide is a heterogeneous and complex phenomenon,” he added. “We are learning a lot about it almost every day but still have a long road before being able to curtail it. Thinking about suicide is not okay, and if somebody does they should seek help.”
The study, “Slower perception of time in depressed and suicidal patients“, was authored by Ricardo Cáceda, Jessica M. Carbajal, Ronald M. Salomon, Jordan E. Moore, Greg Perlman, Prasad R. Padala, Abdullah Hasan, and Pedro L. Delgado.