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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2018 Jul;115(1):137-160. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000152. Epub 2017 Jun 26.

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

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Department of Psychology, Florida State University.
Semel Institute for Neuroscience, University of California at Los Angeles.
Department of Psychology, East Tennessee State University.
Technology Automation and Management Inc.
University of Memphis.


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.

[Available on 2019-07-01]

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