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

  • Jens WestheideEmail author
  • Boris B. Quednow
  • Kai-Uwe Kuhn
  • Christian Hoppe
  • Déirdre Cooper-Mahkorn
  • Barbara Hawellek
  • Petra Eichler
  • Wolfgang Maier
  • Michael Wagner



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.


major depression suicide suicidal ideation neuropsychological Iowa gambling task 



The study was funded by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung within the scope of the German Research Network on Depression and Suicidality (grants 01-GI-0220 and 01-GI-9920). Furthermore, Dr. Quednow was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant QU 218/1-1).


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Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens Westheide
    • 1
    Email author
  • Boris B. Quednow
    • 2
  • Kai-Uwe Kuhn
    • 1
  • Christian Hoppe
    • 3
  • Déirdre Cooper-Mahkorn
    • 3
  • Barbara Hawellek
    • 1
  • Petra Eichler
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Maier
    • 1
  • Michael Wagner
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of BonnBonnGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of EpileptologyUniversity of BonnBonnGermany

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