Within the confines of character: A review of suicidal behavior and personality style

Katie C. Lewis, Kevin B. Meehan, Nicole M. Cain, Philip S. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Suicide is estimated to be 1 of the top 5 leading causes of death for individuals between the ages of 5 and 44. Although the majority of empirical research on suicide has focused on specific risk factors, this has not led to improvement in the prediction of suicide in specific individuals. Contemporary theories such as the Interpersonal-Psychological or Escape theory of suicide have provided promising models of self-destructive behavior, improving on risk factor research by focusing on the connections between precipitating stressors and individual personality-based processes. However, these theories remain limited because of their assumption that all suicidal individuals experience similar vulnerabilities to the same sources of psychological trauma (e.g., interpersonal isolation or experiences of failure and shame). This review argues for an alternative personality- based conceptualization of suicide that contextualizes risk factors within broader models of personality, including considerations of personalitybased cognitive and affective processes such as primary motivating psychological needs, attentional biases, and capacities for impulse control. The integration of contemporary personality theory with new and developing methodological approaches to suicide research will aim toward a more sensitive and comprehensive understanding of suicidal behavior in specific individuals, and greater accuracy in prediction of risk at the clinical assessment level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-202
Number of pages24
JournalPsychoanalytic Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology


  • Cognitive-affective processing
  • Escape theory
  • Interpersonal-psychological theory
  • Personality
  • Suicide


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