Negative Emotions in Veterans Relate to Suicide Risk Through Feelings of Perceived Burdensomeness and Thwarted Belongingness

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BACKGROUND: Suicide rates among veterans are disproportionately high compared to rates among the general population. Veterans may experience a number of negative emotions (e.g., anger, self-directed hostility, shame, guilt) during periods of postwar adjustment and reintegration into civilian life that may uniquely confer risk for suicide. Mechanisms of these associations, however, are less well studied. The purpose of the present study was to examine the relationship between negative emotions and suicide risk in veterans through the theoretical framework of the interpersonal theory of suicide. METHODS: A large sample of veterans (N = 541) completed measures assessing their negative emotions, perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and suicide risk. RESULTS: Self-directed hostility and shame related indirectly to suicide risk through both perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness. Thwarted belongingness accounted for the association between anger and suicide risk, whereas perceived burdensomeness accounted for the relationship between guilt and suicide risk. LIMITATIONS: This study had a cross-sectional design and relied solely on self-report measures. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide evidence for the role of negative emotions in conferring risk for suicide in veterans. Clinical implications, limitations, and future research directions are discussed.