Interpersonal theory of suicide : prospective examination

Background The interpersonal theory of suicide (IPTS) is one of the most intensively researched contemporary theories on the development of suicidal ideation and behaviour. However, there is a lack of carefully conducted prospective studies.

Aims To evaluate the main predictions of the IPTS regarding the importance of perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness and capability for suicide in predicting future suicide attempts in a prospective design.

Method Psychiatric in-patients (n = 308; 53.6% (n = 165) female; mean age 36.82 years, s.d. = 14.30, range 18-81) admitted for severe suicidal ideation (n = 145, 47.1%) or a suicide attempt completed self-report measures of thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, capability for suicide, hopelessness, depression and suicidal ideation as well as interviews on suicide intent and suicide attempts and were followed up for 12 months. Logistic regression and receiver operating characteristics (ROC) analysis were conducted.

Results The interaction of perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness and capability for suicide was not predictive of future suicide attempts, but perceived burdensomeness showed a significant main effect (z = 3.49, P < 0.01; OR = 2.34, 95% CI 1.59-3.58) and moderate performance in screening for future suicide attempts (area under the curve AUC = 0.729, P < 0.01).

Conclusions The results challenge the theoretical validity of the IPTS and its clinical utility - at least within the methodological limitations of the current study. Yet, findings underscore the importance of perceived burdensomeness in understanding suicidal ideation and behaviour.

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Forkmann, T., Glaesmer, H., Paashaus, L., Rath, D., Schönfelder, A., Stengler, K., Juckel, G., Assion, H.-J., Teismann, T., 2020. Interpersonal theory of suicide: prospective examination. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjo.2020.93
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