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

Abstract

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.

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

JR conducted data analyses for the research and was the primary author. JH designed and executed the study, collaborated in analyses, and contributed to the writing of the manuscript. AK collaborated in analyses and writing of the manuscript. FS consulted on the design of the study and collaborated in analyses and writing of the manuscript. BB collaborated in analyses and writing of the manuscript. KN consulted on the study design and analyses and contributed to the writing of the manuscript.

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jameson K. Hirsch.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the IRB of East Tennessee State University and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Rabon, J.K., Hirsch, J.K., Kaniuka, A.R. et al. Self-Compassion and Suicide Risk in Veterans: When the Going Gets Tough, Do the Tough Benefit More from Self-Compassion?. Mindfulness 10, 2544–2554 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01221-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01221-8

Keywords

  • Self-Compassion
  • Suicide
  • Veterans
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Shame