Stress Tolerance and Sensation Seeking Increase Risk for Suicide

Suicide is one of the leading causes of unnatural death in the United States. The interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior (IPTS) suggests that individuals who have the desire to take their own lives and also acquire the capability to do so are the most likely to attempt suicide. Fear of dying and exposure to painful and traumatic life events increases one’s capacity for suicide. Additionally, people who have a low level of distress tolerance and engage in sensation-seeking behaviors such as substance misuse and binge eating to cope with their stress are the most vulnerable. Because it is believed that people who gain the capacity and desire to commit suicide will forever have those traits, it is vitally necessary to better understand how these characteristics develop in order to treat and prevent them in this high-risk population. Thomas E. Joiner, Jr., of the Department of Psychology at Florida State University sought to determine how tolerance to distress and sensation seeking influenced suicidal capacity in individuals with a desire to take their own lives.

In two separate studies, Joiner examined how participants tolerated physiological pain resulting from traumatic life events. He found that the participants with sensation-seeking behaviors saw increases in capability and in tolerating more stressful events. He also discovered that higher levels of tolerance and sensation-seeking behavior directly increased participants’ tolerance for pain. In sum, the findings show that individuals who can tolerate emotional pain and also engage in risky behaviors are more likely to develop acquired capability for suicide, a key risk factor. Joiner believes that clinicians who treat individuals with these risk factors should work to address the desire in order to lessen their vulnerability for lethal behaviors. He added, “Additionally, clinicians should prioritize teaching clients with elevations in sensation seeking and distress tolerance adaptive skills that can help minimize the frequency with which they encounter painful and provocative events (e.g. healthy outlets for thrill seeking tendencies).

Bender, T. W., Anestis, M. D., Anestis, J. C., Gordon, K. H., Joiner, T. E. Acquired Capacity for Suicide: Affective and Behavioral Paths Toward the Acquired Capacity for Suicide. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 31.1 (2012): 81-100. Print.

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  • Beatrice


    February 23rd, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    If these people actually seek treatment then showing them how to fill those voids in their lives without thrill seeking is probably a good way to get more people who would be inclined to commit suicide to not do so.

    But agin the key is getting them into treatment and is there and guarantee that this is going to happen?

    Getting people into treatment is the first step and the hardest one, but once that big step has been taken then there is a greater chance that the life will be saved.

  • Emma.S


    February 24th, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    But it isn’t always this way is it?Ive heard of people who seemed very normal but ended up taking their own lives for no apparent reason,but due to several trivial issues.It is a preventable thing and we must strive for its prevention.Suicide does no good,it only leaves your near and dear ones sad and teary eyed.

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