In psychiatric literature, few original studies exist on the topic of demoralization in suicide. In this review, we aim to identify original studies on suicidal ideation (SI)/suicidal behavior (SB) and demoralization in populations of community-dwellers and patients with somatic or psychiatric disorders.
We employed a systematic approach that followed PRISMA guidelines, searching through four major electronic databases (PubMed/MEDLINE, Scopus, Science Direct, and PsychINFO) for relevant titles/abstracts published from January 1980-June 2021. We included original studies that explicitly mentioned the investigation of a potential association between SI/SB and demoralization.
A total of 18 studies met our inclusion criteria. Their synthesis revealed that demoralization can be associated with SI/SB in a wide range of populations (community dwellers, patients with somatic or psychiatric disorders) and lead to significantly higher suicide risk (odds ratios of >6 were encountered in community dwellers experiencing financial hardship or isolation). Moreover, demoralization alone (about half the patients who were demoralized did not meet the criteria for an affective disorder nor were they clinically depressed) or together with depression has been identified as a major risk factor for SI/SB. Regarding the crucial issue of progression from SI to SA, in the context of the “ideation-to-action” frame, some authors found that the interaction of demoralization and over-arousal could be a useful predictor for this progression, while others found that depression alone was sufficient to differentiate attempters from non-attempters or the interaction with shutdown (helplessness and low positive emotions).
These results emphasize the possibility to identify demoralization as an independent risk factor for suicide. In patients with psychiatric disorders, the association between demoralization and SI/SB may be transnosographic. Overall, from the clinical implications perspective, our findings highlight that: i. Assessment of demoralization may contribute to a more comprehensive suicide risk detection. This appears particularly relevant in Emergency Departments (EDs) where heterogeneous population typologies are usually admitted and a clinical diagnosis of depression is often difficult to be defined. ii. Additionally, since meaninglessness is considered one of the demoralization subcomponents, meaning-centered psychotherapeutic approaches prove to be indicated and they can be initiated already at the EDs upon first contact with the patient. Further studies are necessary to confirm these findings.
Community-dwellers; Demoralization; Depression; Hopelessness; Psychiatric disorder, Meaning in life, Meaning-centered psychotherapies; Risk factor; Somatic disorder; Suicidal behavior; Suicidal ideation; Suicide; Suicide attempt.