A study recently published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research provides evidence that the lack of increased positive feelings during social interactions may contribute to social disconnection among individuals who experience suicidal thoughts. The research challenges the prevailing idea that solely reducing negative emotions is the key to improving the mental health of those who experience suicidality, suggesting that fostering positive emotions is just as crucial.
(If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or follow this link to their online chat.)
Traditionally, mental health research has often been preoccupied with how to alleviate negative emotions and symptoms, especially among those who have suicidal thoughts or behaviors. This study takes a different approach — it focuses on the absence of increased positive emotions during controlled social interactions and how it relates to the feeling of social disconnection.
The research design included 228 adults, ranging in age from 18–55, diagnosed with depressive or anxiety disorders. Some of these individuals reported experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors. All participants engaged in a controlled social interaction, and their emotional states were assessed using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and the Desire for Future Interaction Scale (DFI).
What stood out from the data was that participants with suicidal thoughts showed no significant increase in positive feelings during or after the controlled social interactions. Meanwhile, negative feelings remained stable among all participants, regardless of whether they had suicidal thoughts. Importantly, a lack of increase in positive feelings was related to decreased interest in future social interactions for those with suicidality.
The findings have some important implications. First, it suggests that in order to improve social connectedness among individuals with suicidal thoughts, interventions may need to focus on increasing positive emotions, not just mitigating negative ones. Second, understanding this emotional nuance could be the key to developing more effective interventions to reduce suicide risk. Lastly, focusing on positive emotional experiences could potentially foster stronger social support networks, thereby serving as a protective factor against suicidality.
However, it’s worth noting the study’s limitations. The research employs a cross-sectional design, limiting its ability to establish causality. Further, its primary focus on adults with depressive or anxiety disorders restricts the generalizability of its findings. Additional research is needed to explore these preliminary results in different social contexts.
The study, “Examining affective reactivity as a link between suicidality and social disconnection“, was authored by Samantha N. Hoffman, Colin A. Depp, and Charles T. Taylor.