Chronic pain and the interpersonal theory of suicide

Rehabil Psychol. 2013 Feb;58(1):111-115. doi: 10.1037/a0031390.


Objective: Chronic pain is a known risk factor for suicide. To date, however, few studies of people with chronic pain have tested specific predictions about suicidal ideation that are derived from theory. The interpersonal theory of suicide proposes that the psychological constructs of thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness are unique and independent precursors to suicidal ideation. We tested this hypothesis in a clinical sample of patients with chronic pain.

Method: A total of 303 patients of a chronic pain rehabilitation program completed measures of pain severity, duration, and disability; cognitive-affective measures of depression and catastrophizing; and interpersonal measures of relationship distress and self-perceived burden to others. The latter measures were included as indices of the belongingness and burdensomeness constructs. Participants also rated two items pertaining to suicidal ideation.

Results: In a multiple regression analysis, both distress in interpersonal relations (β = 0.12, p = .037) and self-perceived burden to others (β = 0.25, p < .001) were significant predictors of suicidal ideation, even after adjusting statistically for demographic characteristics, pain severity and duration, functional limitations, catastrophizing, and depression.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that the interpersonal theory is relevant to understanding elevated rates of suicidal ideation among people with chronic pain, and may have broader applicability to other populations with chronic illness or disability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / classification
  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adult
  • Catastrophization
  • Chronic Pain / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Cost of Illness
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / rehabilitation
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illness Behavior
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / psychology*
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Measurement / psychology
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Identification
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Surveys and Questionnaires