Perceived burdensomeness and suicidality: Two studies on the suicide notes of those attempting and those completing suicide


From an evolutionary-psychological perspective, it has been argued that a sense of burdensomeness toward kin may erode self-preservational motives, which in turn, fosters suicidality. We reasoned that if this were so, perceived burdensomeness should specifically characterize those who complete suicide, even as compared to those who attempt suicide, whereas other dimensions (e.g., hopelessness, emotional pain) may not differentiate completers from attempters. Moreover, we predicted that perceived burdensomeness may be related to more lethal means of suicide among those who complete suicide. Two samples of suicide notes were rated on dimensions of burdensomeness, desire to control one's own feelings, desire to control others, emotional pain, and hopelessness. Perceived burdensomeness significantly correlated with completer status and with more lethal means of suicide, even controlling for other relevant dimensions. The other dimensions, in contrast, did not significantly correlate with suicide completion or with lethality of method. The possibility that perceived burdensomeness is a relatively specific feature of completed suicide deserves continued study.

Publication Title

Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology