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Centre for Suicide Research | Professor Mark Williams | Wellcome Trust Research Programme |



The Wellcome Research involves several projects centred around the concept of cognitive reactivity (the way in which small mood changes may induce large and catastrophic patterns of negative thinking), and how our memory for past events sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails to switch off this type of thinking.


Previous research has found that it is people who are most hopeless about the future, and who, when faced with difficulties in their lives, cannot think of any alternative action, who are most at risk for suicidal behaviour. If we are to understand suicidal behaviour and develop effective psychological treatments we need to understand how such hopelessness and severe problem solving difficulty come about.

Our research has discovered that both hopelessness and problem solving deficits are closely linked with a difficulty such people have in retrieving events from their past. They tend to recall their past in an overgeneral way, summarising a number of events (e.g. I used to go for walks with my mother) without retrieving a specific occasion (e.g. the time I fell in the stream).

Although such overgeneral recall might have been adaptive at one time (reducing the impact of unpleasant events and so helping to control mood), it has become maladaptive because it prevents the use of the past to generate solutions to current problems, or to imagine the future in sufficient detail.


This programme of research will:

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Further reading:

Mark Williams, Suicide and Attempted Suicide (Penguin, 2002)


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Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

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