Exploring Dissociation As a Facilitator of Suicide Risk: A Translational Investigation Using Virtual Reality

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Research shows that suicidal behavior is not a result of a single cause or single event, but instead is an interaction of facilitators. One potential facilitator that needs further exploration is dissociation. Dissociation has been consistently linked to suicidal behavior, and theories have posited that dissociation increases the possibility of a suicidal act via intensified disconnect from the body. However, these theories do not indicate whether dissociation is a facilitator of suicide risk by increasing suicidal ideation and attempt behaviors. Additionally, unique considerations of working with suicidal individuals have caused suicide research to lag behind research where laboratory manipulation is possible. Virtual Reality (VR) technology is potentially a useful new translational approach to studying suicide causes. Undergraduate students (n = 145) completed a dissociation induction task and then decided whether to engage in a virtual suicide option. Results showed that those who reported higher dissociation scores also reported higher suicide risk and indicated that certain facets of dissociation (i.e., depersonalization and derealization) significantly predicted engaging in virtual suicide. Results indicate that dissociation should be considered as a factor in the assessment and treatment of suicide risk. Limitations include that this used an uncommon suicide attempt method (i.e., jumping), and engaging in VR suicide is not the same as engaging in actual suicide or suicidal behaviors. However, VR may recreate certain sensations and situations one might experience when engaging in a suicide attempt and thus should be considered assessing and treating suicide risk.

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Journal of Affective Disorders



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