Stressful life events are a common antecedent of suicidal thoughts. However, not all stressful events lead to increased suicidal thinking, even among those who frequently have suicidal thoughts. In this study, we examined whether the ways that individuals regulate their emotions moderates the association between stressful events and suicidal thinking. Building on prior research we hypothesized that cognitive reappraisal is associated with a weaker relationship between stress and same-day suicidal thoughts, and that expressive suppression is associated with a stronger relationship between stress and suicidal thoughts.
We used a daily diary method to collect self-reports of stressful events and suicidal thoughts over a 28-day period. At baseline, we assessed participants’ tendency to use cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression.
Consistent with our first hypothesis, we found that at higher levels of reappraisal, there was a weaker relationship between stress and suicidal thoughts. Contrary to our second hypothesis, we found that at higher levels of expressive suppression there was also a weaker relationship between stress and suicidal thoughts.
In contrast to laboratory-based findings suggesting that expressive suppression has negative psychological effects, these preliminary daily diary results suggest that expressive suppression could be an effective short-term emotion regulation strategy among individuals considering suicide.