Whereas the interpersonal theory of suicide entails the assumption that thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness are equally important, mutually moderating, proximal causes of active ideation, evidence suggests these may not be co-moderating processes. We tested an alternative perspective, hypothesizing that burden mediates the longitudinal relationship of thwarted belonging with active ideation.
A 6-week, four-wave prospective online survey was completed by 298 undergraduates. We tested cross-sectional and cross-lagged panel models (CLPM, with and without random effects) with belonging, burden, and ideation at 2-week lags, and post hoc models with burden as a concurrent mediator of ideation.
Approximately 28% of undergraduates reported active ideation at baseline. Cross-sectionally, thwarted belonging had no direct influence on ideation but indirectly affected ideation via burden. This result was not confirmed in the 2-week CLPM analyses. In post hoc analyses, we found belonging operated indirectly via later burden to influence contemporaneous ideation.
Findings suggest thwarted belonging influences active ideation indirectly via perceived burden. The effect of burden as a mediator appears to depend on its temporal proximity to ideation. Future research should delimit the period during which perceived burden is an active mediator, accommodate dual-process approaches, and explore other mediation alternatives to co-moderation.