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OBJECTIVE: Bipolar disorder has the highest rate of suicide of all the psychiatric disorders. In unipolar depression, individuals report vivid, affect-laden images of suicide or the aftermath of death (flashforwards to suicide) during suicidal ideation but this phenomenon has not been explored in bipolar disorder. Therefore the authors investigated and compared imagery and verbal thoughts related to past suicidality in individuals with bipolar disorder (n = 20) and unipolar depression (n = 20). METHODS: The study used a quasi-experimental comparative design. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV was used to confirm diagnoses. Quantitative and qualitative data were gathered through questionnaire measures (e.g., mood and trait imagery use). Individual interviews assessed suicidal cognitions in the form of (i) mental images and (ii) verbal thoughts. RESULTS: All participants reported imagining flashforwards to suicide. Both groups reported greater preoccupation with these suicide-related images than with verbal thoughts about suicide. However, compared to the unipolar group, the bipolar group were significantly more preoccupied with flashforward imagery, rated this imagery as more compelling, and were more than twice as likely to report that the images made them want to take action to complete suicide. In addition, the bipolar group reported a greater trait propensity to use mental imagery in general. CONCLUSIONS: Suicidal ideation needs to be better characterized, and mental imagery of suicide has been a neglected but potentially critical feature of suicidal ideation, particularly in bipolar disorder. Our findings suggest that flashforward imagery warrants further investigation for formal universal clinical assessment procedures.

Original publication




Journal article


Bipolar Disord

Publication Date





651 - 661


Adult, Bipolar Disorder, Cognition Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Female, Humans, Imagination, Male, Middle Aged, Neuropsychological Tests, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Psychometrics, Suicide, Surveys and Questionnaires