Longitudinal Assessment of Physical Activity and Suicide Risk
Principal Investigator: 

Collin Davidson, Ph.D.

VISN 19 Denver VA Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC)

MSRC postdoctoral pilot grant award

Psychosocial interventions for people at risk for suicide have demonstrated reductions in suicide risk, but focus on individuals at high risk for suicide, are difficult for some to access, require specialized training to administer, and are time intensive. Further, interventions targeting larger portions of the population have a larger impact on levels of a problem than those that target high risk people. Decreasing overall rates of suicide, may partially hinge on the development of interventions that are cost effective, easily accessible, and that target those at less acute risk.

A potential intervention that meets these requirements is regular physical activity (PA). Indeed, research shows that PA is an effective treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), sleep disturbance, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since MDD, sleep disturbance, and PTSD have been linked to increased suicide risk, it is plausible that PA could reduce suicide risk.

Sleep difficulties are fairly common in both active duty and veteran populations, and PA has been shown to decrease sleep disturbance. In addition, this population has been exposed to PA as part of their military training, and, thus may be more willing to participate in PA. Further, research has demonstrated that less than half of Veterans of the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom conflicts who met criteria for a psychiatric disorder sought help for their diagnosis. Respondents specifically cited stigma associated with mental health care as a salient barrier to treatment. A PA intervention is likely much less stigmatizing than traditional treatment. Therefore, further observational research establishing the link between suicide risk and PA could help determine if a PA intervention for suicide risk is justifiable.

The primary objective of this study is to determine if PA is linked to decreased suicidal ideation (SI) using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) over the course of a week. A secondary aim is to determine if depressive symptoms and sleep disturbance, mediate the relationship between PA and SI. A tertiary aim is to determine if over-exercise is associated with acquired capability for suicide. A final aim is to determine the nature of the relation between PA and SI.