Hoping that suicide isn't the solution : a moderation and mediation study of optimism, problem-solving and suicidal ideation

Morris-Furman, Amy (2019) Hoping that suicide isn't the solution : a moderation and mediation study of optimism, problem-solving and suicidal ideation. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


Suicide is one of the world’s biggest killers and significant effort has been put in to prevention. Efforts have focused on awareness programmes and restricting the means, with varying results. Interventions aimed at those in immediate risk are brief, with short-term aims and little consideration given to relapse prevention. An increase in the popularity of positive psychology may lead to a new approach to suicide prevention. The framework of positive psychology is built on identifying and improving a person’s skills and strengths. Two strengths that have an impact on suicidality are problem-solving and optimism. However, how these two interact has never been studied empirically, despite the fluid vulnerability theory of suicide hypothesising a relationship. This theory states that a person will become suicidal if they are not optimistic about the outcomes of events in their lives and are unable to think of alternative ways to cope. Therefore, the current study aims to investigate how the relationship between optimism and suicidality is affected by the inclusion of problem-solving ability. This is to clarify this relationship to inform the creation of suicide prevention interventions with longterm impact, addressing not just immediate risk but also the on-going wellbeing of the individual. This approach is more in line with the humanistic principles that underpin counselling psychology.

An adult population of 216 was recruited through online social media. The participants completed an online questionnaire of measures of optimism, social problem-solving and suicidal ideation.

Negative correlations were found between optimism and suicidal ideation, and problem-solving and suicidal ideation. In addition, age was found to be positively correlated with optimism and was treated as a covariable. No moderation or mediation effect of problem-solving was found on the relationship between optimism and suicidal ideation. There was a mediating effect of optimism found on the relationship between problem-solving and suicidal ideation.

The factors of problem-solving and optimism both influence the likeliness of suicidal ideation and should therefore be considered in suicide prevention planning. The implications for practice and recommendations for future research are discussed.

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