The Interpersonal Theory of Suicide

Kimberly A. Van Orden, Tracy K. Witte, Kelly C. Cukrowicz, Scott R. Braithwaite, Edward A. Selby, Thomas E. Joiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2508 Scopus citations


Suicidal behavior is a major problem worldwide and, at the same time, has received relatively little empirical attention. This relative lack of empirical attention may be due in part to a relative absence of theory development regarding suicidal behavior. The current article presents the interpersonal theory of suicidal behavior. We propose that the most dangerous form of suicidal desire is caused by the simultaneous presence of two interpersonal constructs-thwarted belongingness and perceived burdensomeness (and hopelessness about these states)-and further that the capability to engage in suicidal behavior is separate from the desire to engage in suicidal behavior. According to the theory, the capability for suicidal behavior emerges, via habituation and opponent processes, in response to repeated exposure to physically painful and/or fear-inducing experiences. In the current article, the theory's hypotheses are more precisely delineated than in previous presentations (Joiner, 2005), with the aim of inviting scientific inquiry and potential falsification of the theory's hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-600
Number of pages26
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • belonging
  • burdensomeness
  • opponent processes
  • suicidal behavior
  • suicide


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