Year: 2016 Source: Archives of Suicide Research.(2016).20(3):323-335. DOI:10.1080/13811118.2015.1025121 SIEC No: 20160330

The interpersonal theory of suicide proposes that the most proximal cause of suicide is the combination of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness coupled with a pre-existing vulnerability of reduced fear of death and increased pain tolerance. This pre-existing vulnerability develops in response to painful and provocative life events. According to the theory, empirically demonstrated risk factors for suicide operate by increasing the likelihood of one or more of the theory’s constructs. The current study examined the relations of the major constructs of the interpersonal theory with suicide case status compared to living controls in the second half of life. The current study used a pre-existing psychological autopsy database to compare suicide decedents to living controls 50 years and older. Theory constructs were measured by composite scores of thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and painful and provocative experiences using an a priori selection of items comprising each construct. Suicide decedents experienced greater levels of all three of the theory’s constructs when examined independently compared to living controls. When examined simultaneously while also controlling for Major Depression, greater perceived burdensomeness and painful and provocative experiences were associated with suicide case status (vs. control). The interpersonal theory is a comprehensive framework that may be useful in understanding risk for death by suicide in the second half of life. Clinical management of suicide risk for adults in the second half of life could include a focus on perceived burdensomeness, as the IPTS proposes that this psychological state is amenable to change via therapeutic intervention.