Can Positive Psychology Help Suicidal Individuals?

Can positive psychology help suicidal individuals?

Prevailing interventions for suicidal individuals target negative emotions, cognitions, and behaviour. Huffman et al. (2014) presented fifty two adult suicidal inpatients with nine positive psychology exercises; they wanted to know if these exercises are feasible in this specific population and useful for the outcome of the treatment.

Individuals who attempted suicide or with suicide ideation are usually treated with cognitive behaviour therapy or dialectical behaviour therapy. These therapies alter dysfunctional cognitions and behaviour, or learn clients to manage their problematic thoughts and behaviour. However, negative and positive emotions are distinct but coinciding within individuals (Watson, Clark & Tellegen, 1988). Targeting positive emotional and cognitive states may have an effect on suicide risk above and beyond the prevailing treatment.

Huffman et al. (2014) chose nine exercises for their research; writing a gratitude letter with the option to send it, selecting a personal strength and deliberately use it that day, performing three acts of kindness in one day, engaging in three meaningful activities for one day, recalling three blessings from the past week, writing about their future best possible self, writing about their future accomplishments, writing a forgiveness letter with no intention to send it, and choosing a value that would guide the way they want to live their lives.  Participants also filled out questionnaires to assess their pre- and post levels of hopelessness and optimism because of their independent links to suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

Almost ninety per cent of the exercises was completed by the fifty two inpatients. Regarding the crises the inpatients were in, this is a very good result. The positive psychology exercises had a moderate positive effect on the levels of optimism and hopelessness. Huffman et al. (2014) not only looked at the overall effect of the exercises but they also found that certain exercises were more effective than others. The exercises that did not require substantial introspection were the most effective. The best scoring exercises were the gratitude letter and counting blessings that were associated with considerable improvement of optimism. The research of Huffman et al. (2014) indicates the feasibility and the utility of the positive psychology exercises in this specific population.


Huffman, J. C., DuBois, C. M., Healy, B. C., Boehm, J. K., Kashdan, T. B., Celano, C. M., . . . Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Feasibility and utility of positive psychology exercises for suicidal inpatients. General hospital psychiatry, 36(1), 88-94.

Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), 1063-1070. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1063

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