Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)



Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Jameson K. Hirsch

Committee Members

Kelly Moore, Meredith Ginley, Alyson Chroust


Religion is a known contributor to suicide risk, with both positive and negative effects. Negative religious experiences, such as spiritual struggle, can exacerbate suicide risk. Alternatively, religion may promote positive psychological characteristics associated with reduced suicide risk, such as forgiveness, gratitude, and humility. However, research has yet to assess how religious changes, including conversion and deconversion, affect the linkage between religious risk and protective factors and suicidal behavior. We conducted three studies assessing these associations across four belief status groups: life-long religious believers, former religious non-believers who now believe, life-long religious non-believers, and former religious believers who no longer believe. Participants recruited online completed the Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire – Revised, the Religious and Spiritual Struggles Scale, the Heartland Forgiveness Scale, the Gratitude Questionnaire, and the Comprehensive Intellectual Humility Scale. In our first study, we assessed differences in mean levels of spiritual struggle, forgiveness, humility, and gratitude, across each group. In our second study, we assessed the association between forgiveness, gratitude, humility, spiritual struggle and suicide risk, and differences in these relations across each group. In our final study, we assessed the potential moderating effect of forgiveness, gratitude, and humility on the relation between spiritual struggle and suicide risk, and differences in these moderating effects for each group. Our results indicate that some positive psychological virtues, and their impact on suicide risk may differ based on religious belief status. Similarly, our results suggest that while spiritual struggles are associated with suicide risk regardless of religious belief status, positive psychological variables (i.e., forgiveness, gratitude, humility) may mitigate suicide risk differently based on one’s religious belief status. Changes in, or the maintenance of, one’s religious beliefs may be an important consideration in the development of positive psychological interventions (e.g., forgiveness therapy, gratitude diary) aimed at ameliorating suicide risk in the context of spiritual struggle. Additionally, religiously oriented psychotherapies (e.g., RI-CBT) may be an important therapeutic intervention for individuals at high risk for suicide experiencing spiritually related distress.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo


Copyright by the authors.