Suicide is the leading cause of death in schizophrenia. An association between suicidal behavior and both higher and lower cognitive ability in schizophrenia has been reported. To clarify this relationship, we investigated whether the relationship between suicidality and neurocognition varied according to differences in suicidal ideation and behavior. Three hundred and ten patients with DSM-IV diagnoses of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder were categorized based on patient and staff interviews as either non-suicide attempters, non-attempters expressing suicidal ideation, single suicide attempters, or multiple suicide attempters. These groups were compared on a neuropsychological battery examining current general cognitive ability, episodic and working memory, and attentional control. Neuropsychological performance in those with a history of suicidal ideation (n=63), and those who had made one suicide attempt (n=48) was comparable. Together, these groups outperformed patients with no history of either suicidal behavior or ideation (n=172) on measures of IQ, episodic memory and working memory. Only differences in global cognition remained significant after controlling for between-group differences in depressive symptoms. Those who had either expressed suicidal ideation and/or made a single suicide attempt demonstrated trend level advantages in neuropsychological tests over those that had made multiple suicide attempts. These findings support earlier evidence of an association between suicidality and neurocognitive ability in schizophrenia. Specifically, these data suggest that patients who have contemplated suicide or made a single suicide attempt have better cognitive functioning than those who have not. Suicidality in multiple attempters, who do not perform better in neurocognitive tests than those who have neither contemplated nor attempted suicide, is likely to be influenced by factors other than neurocognitive ability.
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