Shame, Guilt, and Suicide Risk Among Veterans: Self-compassion as a Moderator

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Among the 19.3 million veterans residing in the U.S., suicide is a primary mental health concern, with risk for suicide among veterans being 21% higher than for the general population. Increased suicide risk for veterans may be linked to strong negative emotions associated with the requirements of being in the military. For instance, many veterans describe feelings of guilt, defined as remorse or responsibility for one's actions, such as for experiences during combat exposure (e.g., having to kill someone). Shame, or the belief that there is something inherently wrong or defective with the self, often occurs following a violation of personal values or morals (e.g. participation in violence, missing important family events during deployment), and frequently coexists with feelings of guilt. As well, many members of the military experience sexual trauma, which may induce shame. For some veterans, suicide may become a viable alternative to these overwhelming negative feelings. However, not all veterans are at risk for suicide, perhaps due to individual-level protective factors. One such factor is self-compassion, which is composed of self-kindness, community, and mindfulness. Positive emotions (i.e. selfcompassion) may buffer against negative feelings about the self or one's actions (i.e. guilt and shame), thereby decreasing suicide risk. Our study aimed to test these associations in the context of moderation analyses. At the bivariate level, we hypothesized that guilt and shame would be negatively related to self-compassion and positively related to suicide risk. Also, we hypothesized that self-compassion would be negatively related to suicide risk. At the multivariate level, we hypothesized that self-compassion would moderate the relations between guilt and suicide risk, and between shame and suicide risk, weakening both associations. Our sample of veterans (N=422) was primarily white (n=366) and male (n=291). Participants completed self-report measures including the Differential Emotions Scale-IV, Self-Compassion Scale Short-Form, and Suicide Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised. Bivariate correlations and multivariate analyses, per Hayes (2013), were conducted covarying age, sex, and ethnicity. In bivariate correlations, guilt and shame were positively related to suicide risk (p


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