Interpersonal stress and suicidal ideation in adolescence: An indirect association through perceived burdensomeness toward others

J Affect Disord. 2016 Jan 15;190:143-149. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.09.077. Epub 2015 Oct 22.


Background: Research has documented significant associations between life stress, especially interpersonal stress, and suicidal ideation in adolescents. Little is known about variables that explain the association between interpersonal stress and suicidal ideation.

Methods: The present study evaluated a conceptual model in which interpersonal stress (chronic and episodic) predicted suicidal ideation indirectly via thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness among 180 inpatients (65.0% girls) ages 12-17 years (M=14.72, SD=1.49). Non-interpersonal stress was also examined to determine whether the model was specific to interpersonal stress or common to stress in general.

Results: Structural equation modeling identified a significant indirect effect of chronic interpersonal stress on suicidal ideation via perceived burdensomeness. Episodic interpersonal stress was significantly correlated with thwarted belongingness and suicidal ideation, but was not a significant predictor of suicidal ideation in a model that controlled for depressive and anxious symptoms. No significant associations were found between non-interpersonal stress and suicidal ideation.

Limitations: Adolescents were the sole informant source, data on psychiatric diagnoses were not available, and the optimal time interval for examining stress remains unclear. The cross-sectional study design prevents conclusions regarding directionality.

Conclusions: These findings highlight the role of chronic interpersonal stress in suicidal ideation in adolescents, as well as the potential promise of perceived burdensomeness as a target for programs designed to prevent or reduce suicidal ideation.

Keywords: Adolescence; Interpersonal; Stress; Suicidal ideation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States