Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Family Science and Human Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Sara E. Goldstein

Committee Member

Constance Gager

Committee Member

Amanda Birnbaum


Suicide is a major public health concern claiming over 47,000 lives annually in the United States. Despite efforts at prevention, the rates of suicide have continued to climb. Due to this, research that can shed light on the potential causes of suicidal thoughts is of great importance. The present manuscript outlines three studies exploring two theoretical frameworks for suicide: (1) Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide (IPTS) and (2) Social Pain Model (SPM). Findings from Study 1 partially support the role of low self-worth and low social support in increasing risk for reporting suicidal thoughts in a racially diverse sample of African American and European American adolescents. Additionally, perceptions of racial discrimination were seen to interact with self-worth to lead to increased risk of suicidal thoughts. Studies 2 and 3 explored the SPM and found partial support for the model among young adults (Study 2) and middle to older adults (Study 3). In both studies, perceived burdensomeness had a direct effect on psychological pain. Psychological pain was, in turn, found to impact suicidal thoughts, though the nature of this relationship varied by study. In Study 2, psychological pain indirectly increased suicidal thoughts through an association with hopelessness, as predicted by the SPM. In Study 3 psychological pain lead directly to increased suicidal thoughts. Results from these three studies point to the importance of considering perceptions of self-worth, burdensomeness, and racial discrimination when seeking to understand and prevent suicide.

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