Does perceived burdensomeness erode meaning in life among older adults?

Kimberly A. Van Orden, Patricia M. Bamonti, Deborah A. King, Paul R. Duberstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Scopus citations


Background: Identification of risk factors for the loss of meaning in life among older adults is needed. In this article, we test hypotheses derived from the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide concerning the role of perceptions that one is a burden on others as a risk factor for lower meaning in life. Methods: A prospective design was used to examine the temporal associations between perceptions of burdensomeness on others and perceived meaning in life among older adults (n=65) seeking mental health treatment (primarily for depression and/or anxiety) at an outpatient geriatric mental health clinic. Participants completed self-report questionnaires within a month following intake. Follow-up questionnaires were completed over the phone two months later. Results: Perceived burdensomeness predicted lack of meaning in life two months later, while accounting for depression severity. In contrast, baseline levels of meaning in life did not significantly predict the levels of burdensomeness at two months. Conclusion: The findings suggest that burdensomeness may contribute to suicide morbidity and mortality in late-life by eroding meaning in life. Empirically supported treatments for late-life depression could be adapted to focus on perceptions of burdensomeness and its connections with meaning in life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)855-860
Number of pages6
JournalAging and Mental Health
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Gerontology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • elderly
  • interpersonal theory of suicide
  • meaning in life
  • older adults

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