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This study sought to replicate previous findings of vivid suicide-related imagery in previously suicidal patients in a community sample of adults with a history of depression. Twenty-seven participants were interviewed regarding suicidal imagery. Seventeen participants reported prior suicidal ideation or behaviour in the clinical assessment, and the vast majority of these also reported experiencing suicide-related imagery when at their most depressed and despairing, in many cases in the form of flash-forwards to imagined future suicidal acts. Interestingly, five of the 10 participants who did not report suicidal ideation or behaviour in the clinical interview also described prominent imagery related to themes of death and suicide, but in several cases, these images were associated with meanings that seemed to act to reduce the likelihood of subsequent suicidal acts. Severity of prior suicidality was associated with lower levels of imagery-related distress and higher levels of imagery-related comfort. These findings support the idea that suicide-related imagery is an important component in the phenomenology of depression and despair and hint at potentially important differences in the meaning associated with such imagery between those individuals who report experiencing suicidal ideation or behaviour when depressed and those who do not. The findings are consistent with Joiner's model of acquired capability for suicide through habituation to pain and fear of suicide and suggest that it may be useful to tackle such imagery directly in the treatment of suicidal patients. © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy

Publication Date





57 - 69