Most earlier studies of hopelessness as a risk factor for suicidal behavior were based on either clinical or restricted samples. Using a longitudinal study design with a community sample of more than 3,000 participants, we aimed to examine if hopelessness was a long-term predictor of suicidal behaviors.
Using longitudinal data from the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) Program, we assessed the association of hopelessness at baseline and incident suicidal behaviors in the 13-year follow-up period, adjusting for the presence of depression and substance use disorders. Suicide behaviors studied included completed suicide, self-reported attempted suicide, and suicide ideation.
Hopelessness was predictive of all three types of suicidal behaviors in the follow-up period, even after adjustment. Persons who expressed hopelessness in 1981 were 11.2 times as likely to have completed suicide over the 13-year follow-up interval (95% confidence interval [1.8, 69.1]). The association between suicidality and hopelessness was stronger and more stable than the association of suicidality with the presence of depression and substance use disorders.
Hopelessness was an independent risk factor for completed suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal ideation. Intervention strategies that lower hopelessness may be effective for suicide prevention.