Date: 11 Mar 2008

Executive performance of depressed suicide attempters: the role of suicidal ideation

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Suicidal ideation has been related to cognitive rigidity whereas suicidal behaviour itself was associated with specific executive deficits. Yet it remains unclear if a distinct cognitive suicidal phenotype does exist. The aim of the present study was to further investigate the role of suicidal thinking for the neuropsychological performance in depressive suicide attempters.


Depressive inpatients after a recent suicide attempt, who either had present suicidal ideation (n = 14) or not (n = 15) and healthy controls (n = 29) were recruited. The groups were assessed by means of executive tasks designed to capture impulsive decision-making, and with verbal memory and attention tests. Self-rating measures of impulsivity and aggression were further applied.


Only patients with current suicidal ideation showed executive dysfunctions with impaired decision-making being the most salient. Verbal memory and attention were reasonably intact in all patients. All patients reported increased aggression.


Suicidal ideation is clearly associated with impaired cognitive performance. Our results suggest that executive deficits seen in depressive suicide attempters have a state-dependent component.