Anxiety as a moderator of the relationship between suicidality and responding to suicidal communications

Marceline Moulin Brown


Knowing how to respond to suicidal communications varies with respondents' understanding of suicide. People who have been suicidal possess personal knowledge of the suicidal state, so they might be uniquely qualified to evaluate responses to suicidal statements. However, in a recent study, suicidal participants responded worse than non-suicidal participants to suicidal communications. In the present study, we explored this finding by examining the possibility that suicidal participants' responses might be related to anxiety, which is often associated with suicidality. The participants were 279 undergraduate psychology students. Each student completed the Trait portion of the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, a self-report form of the Scale for Suicidal Ideation, and the revised Suicide Intervention Response Inventory (SIRI-2). The latter measures ability to evaluate responses to suicidal communications. Our hypotheses follow. First, increasing suicidality would be associated with more errors on the SIRI-2. Second, both low and high anxiety would be associated with worse performance on the SIRI-2 as compared to moderate anxiety. Third, both low and high suicidality would be associated with low anxiety, whereas moderate suicidality would be associated with high anxiety. Fourth, anxiety would moderate the relationship between suicidality and SIRI-2 scores. Unexpectedly, increasing suicidality was not associated with problematic responding on the SIRI-2. Also unexpectedly, moderately anxious participants made more errors on the SIRI-2 than did minimally or highly anxious participants. The results provided some support for the predicted relationship between anxiety and suicidality, but, contrary to our predictions, anxiety did not moderate the relationship between suicidality and SIRI-2 scores. Participants scored significantly more like the experts on the SIRI-2 if they were Caucasian or relatively older, or if they had completed a course on Crisis Intervention, previously received a diagnosis for a psychological disorder, undergone psychotherapy, experienced relatively higher levels of anxiety, or experienced suicidality. Future studies should explore which aspects of people's life experiences are associated with improved responding to suicidal communications.