The Role of Unmet Needs in Self-Harming Behaviours

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Patterson, Allisha
Self-mutilation , suicide
Suicide and self-mutilation are widespread societal issues, making them an important area of research. The interpersonal theory of suicide (ITS) and Shneidman’s theory of psychache have each garnered substantial support in suicide research; however, to date, there have been no studies that combine the theories in hopes of creating a better model of suicide. There has also been very limited research that has applied these theories to self-mutilation, a behaviour highly correlated with suicide. It is expected that these two theories are compatible given that they both focus on unmet needs which create an undesirable state, and they both suggest that an additional factor is necessary for unmet needs to create suicidality. The current research also contributes theoretically to the literature by investigating previously unexplored possible antecedents to suicide and self-mutilation, namely adverse childhood experiences and early maladaptive schemas (unmet needs from childhood that influence an individual’s interpretation of the world). Data were collected from two distinct populations: 428 university undergraduates and a community sample of 533 individuals. Participants completed questionnaires assessing the criterion measures of self-mutilation and suicidality and the psychological predictors of psychache, thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and acquired capability for suicide. Analyses revealed that, for both the university and community samples, the ITS model (interaction of thwarted belonging, perceived burdensomeness and acquired capability) and psychache each added unique variance to the prediction of suicide ideation, motivation, preparation, and non-suicidal self-injury. A combined model, however, was not better able to predict a past suicide attempt. Further, contrary to expectation, the ITS-self-harm relationship was not mediated by psychache. Explanations for these findings are provided. Overall, these results provide important theoretical and practical contributions to the literature suggesting the utility of a new, blended model of suicide. Limitations and future directions are discussed.
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