by B.W. Bauer (Portland, Oregon)
Let us look at the concept of thwarted belongingness a little further. IPTS relies heavily on the idea that belongingness is a fundamental need for human mental health (Baumeister and Leary, 1995). Most of the risk factors that are involved in creating thwarted belongingness involve this idea to some degree (e.g. having limited social supports, living alone, social withdrawal). Having this information is crucial, because we can use this knowledge as an avenue to possibly help reduce suicidal desire through our everyday social interactions.
To further illustrate this point, Motto and Bostrom (2001) conducted a study regarding suicide prevention in the form of postdischarge follow-up contact after hospitalization for depression or suicide-related behaviors (Caring Letters). The researchers attempted to find benefits from ongoing contact with patients at-risk for suicide after hospitalization, since the risk of suicide significantly increases in the first two years postdischarge. The researchers observed patients who did not participate in any health care after their release (e.g. mental health counseling). These participants were then split into two groups: no-contact and contact. The no-contact group received no follow-up communication from the hospital or researchers while the contact group received short letters from research staff who interviewed them at the hospital prior to discharge. The letters were an expression of concern; here is an example letter from Motto and Bostrom (2001):
Dear ____: It has been some time since you were here at the hospital, and we hope things are going well for you. If you wish to drop us a note we would be glad to hear from you. (p. 829)
These results have been replicated numerous times in many different ways. For instance, using telephone calls, postcards, or emails instead of postal letters as well as implementing different contact intervals. In general, these repeated follow-up contacts appear to have a preventative effect on suicidal behaviors (Luxton, June, and Comtois, 2013). One possible hypothesis for this reduction in suicidal behaviors is that those who received the letters had lower levels of thwarted belongingness during those time periods and thus had a lesser desire for suicide.
These studies are important because they lend further evidence to the notion that interpersonal connections and feelings of belongingness are extremely potent variables in suicide prevention. It is also significant because with this information we can see that making a large difference in someone’s life is entirely possible in very practical ways. Although this idea may be a bit generalized due to the studies cited in this post only pertaining to those post-hospitalization, I do not think that extending this idea to a wider population would be harmful or too exaggerated. Reaching out to someone via a simple message, email, telephone call, or conversation has the potential to have a dramatic impact on a person’s life. This is something that does not require much time, energy, or money and is a capability that we all possess. When an individual is going through a difficult time in their life, it can be hard for them to see that there are people who care about them, or for them to feel like they belong. Extending a message to someone you care about during these times could be a simple exercise in reducing thwarted belongingness by better illuminating the fact that people are both thinking of and have positive feelings for them.
Next time you believe someone is going through a rough time period, try creating your own simple message that conveys positive feelings and acknowledgement towards them, it might have more of an impact than you think.
*This idea should not be used in place of mental health treatment, only as a supplemental way of helping people navigate through difficult times in their life.
ABOUT AUTHOR B.W. BAUER: I am currently studying counseling psychology in the Portland metro area and am conducting research in the area of suicidology. At present, my research is focused on altering existing environments to create places where people do not want to kill themselves as well as studying the relationships between executive functioning tasks and suicidal ideation in young children.
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- Joiner, T. E., Van Orden, K. A., Witte, T. K., Selby, E. A., Ribeiro, J. D., Lewis, R., & Rudd, M. D. (2009). Main Predictions of the Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior: Empirical Tests in Two Samples of Young Adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(3), 634–646. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0016500
- Luxton, D. D., June, J. D., & Comtois, K. A. (2013). Can postdischarge follow-up contacts prevent suicide and suicidal behavior? A review of the evidence. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 34(1), 32-41. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000158
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