How Suicidality Affects Clients' Acceptance of Suicidal Persons

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lillian Range

Advisor Department



Affective factors such as depression, schizophrenia, or arousability evidenced through hostility, are commonly found in people who are suicidal. The nature of these psychological illnesses may affect a person's perception of someone experiencing similar distress. It is possible that the cognitive factors of rigid thinking, self-appraised ineffective problem-solving, coping difficulties, feeling hopeless, and thinking in a perfectionistic manner, distort suicidal persons' ability to empathize with or accept other people. If so, a consequence might be that suicidal persons stigmatize individuals experiencing personal distress regardless of the similarities that may exist between them. Whether suicide is stigmatized or not can depend on characteristics of the person evaluating the situation or the details around the situation itself. Persons asked to imagine themselves as someone contemplating suicide (actors) tended to attribute the suicide ideation to situational problems. While persons not involved (observers) viewed suicide ideation as a character flaw. Similarly, persons with suicide ideation suicide more readily view suicide as an acceptable response to crisis than nonsuicide ideators. People's perception of suicide also depends on the reasons for the suicidal thoughts (physical pain or psychological pain) or controllability of the situation. Lastly, people's overall levels of empathy also determines their likelihood of helping or accepting an individual who is suicidal. One hundred and five clients from a community mental health agency rated their acceptance of Pat, a hypothetical person, who survived a suicide attempt. Fifty-two clients were not suicidal, 29 were considered low suicidal, and 24 were high suicidal. Nonsuicidal clients were more accepting than the other two groups, contrary to Hypothesis I. Acceptance was positively correlated with overall levels of empathy as hypothesized. Depression was also positively correlated with acceptance of Pat, contrary to Hypothesis III. African Americans were more accepting than Caucasians and older, more educated clients were more accepting than younger, less educated clients. Suicide ideation appeared to impede the respondents' ability to be accepting of Pat's situation. Nonsuicidal persons were not experiencing psychological distress from suicide ideation, thus were able to empathize with Pat. Persons who tended to be empathic in everyday life situations were able to perceive the target as worthy of acceptance. Though depressed people usually internalize their inability to make certain decisions or accomplish tasks, these factors did not inhibit the respondents in this study. Depression may have actually facilitated the respondents ability to accept Pat. Overall, nonsuicidal, depressed, older African Americans, with higher education and high levels of empathy were more accepting of Pat than any other groups.