Perceived problem-solving deficits and suicidal ideation: Evidence for the explanatory roles of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness in five samples


Perceived social problem-solving deficits are associated with suicide risk; however, little research has examined the mechanisms underlying this relationship. The interpersonal theory of suicide proposes 2 mechanisms in the pathogenesis of suicidal desire: intractable feelings of thwarted belongingness (TB) and perceived burdensomeness (PB). This study tested whether TB and PB serve as explanatory links in the relationship between perceived social problem-solving (SPS) deficits and suicidal thoughts and behaviors cross-sectionally and longitudinally. The specificity of TB and PB was evaluated by testing depression as a rival mediator. Self-report measures of perceived SPS deficits, TB, PB, suicidal ideation, and depression were administered in 5 adult samples: 336 and 105 undergraduates from 2 universities, 53 homeless individuals, 222 primary care patients, and 329 military members. Bias-corrected bootstrap mediation and meta-analyses were conducted to examine the magnitude of the direct and indirect effects, and the proposed mediation paths were tested using zero-inflated negative binomial regressions. Cross-sectionally, TB and PB were significant parallel mediators of the relationship between perceived SPS deficits and ideation, beyond depression. Longitudinally and beyond depression, in 1 study, both TB and PB emerged as significant explanatory factors, and in the other, only PB was a significant mediator. Findings supported the specificity of TB and PB: Depression and SPS deficits were not significant mediators. The relationship between perceived SPS deficits and ideation was explained by interpersonal theory variables, particularly PB. Findings support a novel application of the interpersonal theory, and bolster a growing compendium of literature implicating perceived SPS deficits in suicide risk. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication Title

Journal of personality and social psychology