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Positive mental health stressful life events

Article in review: Brailovskaia, J., Teismann, T. and Margraf, J.(2020). Positive mental health, stressful life events & suicide ideation: A 2-year follow up study. Crisis,


A two-year study has sought to determine if positive mental health can protect against suicide ideation, particularly when a person is exposed to stressful life events, which are known to be a risk factor. The findings have reinforced other studies suggesting that positive mental health is a protective condition against suicide ideation. This article also observes how resilience factors are considered far less often than risk factors for suicide.


Stressful life events and suicide

Stressful life events, somatic, financial, or interpersonal, are among the strongest predictors of suicide across people from all cultures, countries, and age groups. Factors including problem-solving ability and emotional intelligence have been shown to moderate the association between stressful life events and suicide ideation.

The part of positive mental health

Positive mental health, which can be described as having high levels of subjective and psychological wellbeing is another factor that has been believed to act as a buffer against suicide risk, with a one-year study showing that this buffer reduced the impact of depression on suicide ideation. No study has to date assessed if positive mental health can provide longer-term buffering of suicide ideation. This study was set within a group of German students and conducted over two years.

Study cohort and hypothesis

Students at a large university in Germany were invited by email to participate in this study. In total, 126 students were involved in the study- 80.2% female, ranging in ages from 19-57 years with a mean age of almost 30. It was anticipated that students showing high levels of positive mental health would not show significantly increased levels of suicide ideation if faced with stressful life events over the study period.

Participants who had positive mental health

The unidimensional positive mental health scale was used to assess positive mental health. This scale measures not only positive affect but also attitudes a person has about their life and themselves. Participants were asked questions about satisfaction with their life, self-acceptance and emotional mastery.

Participants who experienced suicide ideation

The presence and frequency of suicide ideation was assets using the questions “How often have you thought about killing yourself in the past year within the Suicidal Behaviours Questionnaire. This instrument is recommended for screening in this setting. At the study’s commencement, 27.8% indicated some degree of suicide ideation over the past month, while in the second year, the rate was 33.3%.

Participants who experienced stressful life events

To assess stressful life experiences over the past 12 months, the Brief Daily Stressor Screening (BDSS) tool was used. This instrument has nine items related to sources of stress in daily life, including family, health, finances, study, or work. The items are rated on a five-point scale with higher scores indicating higher levels of stress. Stressful events were positively associated with suicide ideation.

The impact of positive mental health

Positive mental health was negatively correlated with suicide ideation during the course of the study, meaning it was proven to buffer the impact of stressful life events on suicide ideation. Positive mental health conferred resilience at cross-sectional analysis and long-term follow-up analysis. The study also found an association between suicide ideation and comparatively milder stressful events such as dissatisfaction with living or work conditions and family obligations.

The next steps

Positive mental health can be understood as having more frequent everyday positive affect, which helps people to bounce back for challenges and problems. Further research is needed about how this actually occurs and how positive affect is created. We also need to know more about how to assess and measure positive mental health. Helping people to foster positive mental health is suggested. Programs that have been proven to reduce the risk of suicide should be assessed to determine if there is an associated increase in the positive mental health of participants.

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