Feelings of Defeat, Entrapment Predict Suicide Risk in PTSD Sufferers


A team of British researchers has concluded that the presence of two related emotions—defeat and entrapment—is a prominent source of suicidal risk in post-traumatic stress disorder patients.

People affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have heightened chances of thinking about suicide and making suicide attempts. This fact holds true even when the impact of co-existing mental health issues like depression is taken into account. In a study published in January 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers sought to determine the factors that help predict the risks for suicide-related issues in individuals diagnosed with PTSD.

PTSD and Suicide

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a delayed or continuing reaction to the shock and strain of exposure to highly dangerous or potentially lethal circumstances. Specific circumstances linked to the development of this damaging reaction include witnessing or directly experiencing combat, witnessing or directly experiencing terrorism, experiencing sexual assaults or physical assaults as an adult, experiencing child abuse and experiencing a natural disaster or serious illness. Figures compiled by the National Center for PTSD indicate that, overall, American men have higher chances of being exposed to potentially PTSD-triggering circumstances than American women. However, women develop the disorder more than 100 percent more often than men.

PTSD is the only anxiety- or stress-based mental health issue clearly linked to higher chances of thinking about suicide and making a suicide attempt, the National Center for PTSD reports. People dealing with post-traumatic stress often have other problems that can add to their suicide-related risks, including diagnosable symptoms of major depression or other depressive illnesses. However, PTSD produces its own risks, apart from the influences of any other condition. PTSD symptoms previously associated with higher chances of thinking about suicide or making a suicide attempt include frequently reliving traumatic events during nightmares or flashbacks and frequently experiencing bouts of impulsive behavior or anger.

Defeat and Entrapment

Defeat is an emotional state that appears when a person feels he or she has been beaten by a person, a situation or a series of events. Repeated experiences of defeat can lead to the onset of hopelessness (i.e. a feeling that current unfavorable circumstances have no workable solution and will never change for the better). Defeat is associated with another emotional/psychological state called entrapment. The effects of this mental state center on an inability to get away from situations that end in defeat. Current research links the presence of defeat and entrapment to the development of diagnosable symptoms of depression.

Predictor of Suicide Risks

In the study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of Manchester and King’s College London used a small-scale project to help determine the factors that predict suicidal thinking and/or suicide attempts in people affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. A total of 52 adults took part in this project; all of these individuals had diagnosed cases of PTSD. At the beginning of the study, each participant underwent a mental health assessment that included things such as the severity of his or her PTSD-related symptoms, his or her level of experience with hopelessness and his or her suitability for a depression diagnosis. At a second assessment conducted 13 to 15 months later, the researchers looked for any changes in the participants’ level of involvement in suicidal thinking.

The researchers specifically wanted to know if the presence of feelings of defeat and entrapment make a person with PTSD more likely to contemplate committing suicide, even when other factors (severity of PTSD symptoms, level of hopelessness and the onset of diagnosable depression) are taken into account. During their analysis of the information gathered from the study participants, they looked for any changes in the levels of each individual’s feelings of defeat and entrapment between the first and second mental health assessments. After completing their evaluation, the researchers concluded that over the course of a year-plus span of time, an increase in feelings of defeat and entrapment predicts the rise of suicidal thinking in people dealing with the effects of PTSD.

The study’s authors characterize feelings of defeat and entrapment as “strong” indicators of future suicidal thinking in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. These findings support the work of previous researchers and help confirm the importance of identifying defeat and entrapment in cases of PTSD, as well as in cases of depression.

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