What is it about?

The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (ITS) predicts thwarted belongingness (low-belongingness), perceived burdensomeness (burdensomeness), and hopelessness lead to suicidal ideation. Furthermore, it reasons that low-belongingness and burdensomeness should be the targets of treatment. However, there is limited research that has tested if low-belongingness and burdensomeness predict suicidal ideation during treatment. This study examined the bidirectional relationships between low-belongingness, burdensomeness, hopelessness, depression, and suicidal ideation in young people seeking treatment for suicide related behaviours across the first five sessions of treatment. A finding that diverged from the main propositions of the ITS, was that prior suicidal ideation was the most consistent predictor of suicidal ideation. Prior levels of hopelessness, low-belongingness, and burdensomeness, did influence suicidal ideation at some sessions. The most consistent significant pathway was from hopelessness to burdensomeness.

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Why is it important?

Youth suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young people worldwide. Improving psychological interventions for suicide prevention is important for tackling youth suicide. Our study suggests that prior suicidal ideation was the most consistent predictor of subsequent severity of suicidal ideation. However, addressing hopelessness may be particularly important in addressing feelings of burdensomeness and suicidal thoughts.


This paper explores whether propositions of the ITS are reflected in data from young people in treatment for suicidality. Several components of the ITS were not confirmed, raising questions about the utility of some aspects of the theory in practice. Findings should assist researchers, policymakers, and practitioners about the potentially important components of psychological treatment for suicidal youth.

Atanas Janackovski
University of Wollongong

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This page is a summary of: Temporal exploration of the interpersonal theory of suicide among adolescents during treatment., Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, September 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/ccp0000758.
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