Self-Compassion and Suicide Risk in Veterans: When the Going Gets Tough, Do the Tough Benefit More from Self-Compassion?

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Objectives: Veterans are at particular risk for suicide due to psychopathological, emotional, and interpersonal risk factors. However, the presence of individual-level protective factors, such as self-compassion, may reduce risk, becoming more salient at increasing levels of distress and psychopathology, per theory. We examined the relation between self-compassion and suicide risk, and the moderating effects of depression, PTSD symptoms, anger, shame, and thwarted interpersonal needs. Methods: Our sample of US veterans (n = 541) in our cross-sectional study were mostly male (69.1%) with an average age of 49.90 (SD = 16.78), who completed online self-report measures: Suicidal Behaviors Questionnaire-Revised, Multidimensional Health Profile-Psychosocial Functioning Screening Tool, PTSD Checklist-Military Version, Differential Emotions Scale-IV, and the Interpersonal Needs Questionnaire. Results: The linkage between self-compassion and suicidal behavior in our veteran sample was moderated by distress-evoking risk factors, including depression, anger, shame, and thwarted interpersonal needs, such that, as level of risk severity increases, the inverse association between self-compassion and suicidal behavior is strengthened. Conclusions: Our findings highlight an emergent protective process that may prevent suicide in times of distress. Therapeutically bolstering the ability for self-compassion may provide a proactive coping strategy that can be brought to bear in times of crisis, reducing suicide risk for veterans.