Testing the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide in Chronic Pain

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Abstract

Objective:

The interpersonal theory of suicide offers a conceptual framework for understanding suicidal ideation (SI) that may be applicable to individuals with chronic pain. The theory emphasizes the importance of 2 interpersonal constructs as precursors to SI: perceived burdensomeness (the belief that one has become a burden to others) and thwarted belongingness (a lack of social integration or connection). Our objective was to test the interpersonal theory of suicide in people with chronic pain.

Methods:

Hierarchical regression analysis was used in a cross-sectional study of 282 patients of an interdisciplinary pain clinic. The Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation was the criterion measure of SI, and independent variables included both general and pain-specific predictors.

Results:

After adjusting for other known or putative risk factors related to pain and mental health, perceived burdensomeness significantly predicted SI, whereas thwarted belongingness did not. As expected according to theory, the interaction between perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness was also significant; perceived burdensomeness was a strong predictor of SI at high levels of thwarted belongingness, but only marginally at low levels. Other independent predictors were male sex, number of prior suicide attempts, and hopelessness.

Discussion:

These findings are in line with some, but not all, of the major predictions of the interpersonal theory of suicide. In general, however, they support the relevance of the theory for individuals with chronic pain.

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