Suicide is a serious public health concern that affects individuals of all ages and backgrounds. It is a leading cause of death worldwide, and its impact is felt not only by those who die by suicide but also by their families, friends, and communities. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide is by identifying individuals who are at risk and providing them with the appropriate support and treatment.

Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) is a research method that involves collecting real-time data on an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in their natural environment. This method is particularly useful in the field of suicide prevention as it allows researchers and clinicians to gain a better understanding of the factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviors and to develop more effective interventions.

Ecological Momentary Assessment App

EMA can be used to collect data on various factors associated with suicide risks, such as depression, anxiety, stress, and substance use. By collecting this data in real time, researchers and clinicians can gain a more detailed and accurate understanding of the individual's experience. EMA can also be used to track changes in an individual's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors over time, which can provide valuable information about the effectiveness of treatment.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego and the VA San Diego Healthcare System have used NeuroUX’s EMA app to study different contextual factors in relation to real-time suicidal ideation. For example, in a paper led by Emma Parrish (Twitter handle: @emmamparrish) that was recently published in the Archives of Suicide Research,, EMA was used to understand social approach and avoidance motivations in relation to symptoms and suicidal ideation in a sample of persons with serious mental illness (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or a mood disorder with psychotic features). This study found that participants who were experiencing suicidal ideation at baseline had lower motivations for social engagements, greater social avoidance, and more psychotic symptoms as compared to participants without suicidal ideation. In another study from the same research team, EMA was used to assess the Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide in relation to suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms, mood and social context in a sample of individuals with psychotic disorders. Results indicated that social context had a differential effect on burdensomeness and belongingness, such that participants with suicidal ideation had higher ratings of perceived burdensomeness and lower ratings of perceiving belongingness when compared to participants without suicidal ideation. Further, other EMA-measured context and mood factors were linked to greater burdensomeness and less belongingness  

Overall, EMA is a valuable tool for suicide prevention as it allows researchers and clinicians to gain a better understanding of the factors that contribute to suicide risk. It is an important approach to improve the suicide prevention field and can support the development of new technologies and interventions to prevent suicide.

Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. There are many resources available, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (call or text 988), and the Crisis Text Line (text 741741).