The Validity of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide in Adolescence: A Review

Sunita M. Stewart, Michael Eaddy, Sarah E. Horton, Jennifer Hughes, Beth Kennard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Adolescence, when suicidal ideation and behaviors often begin, might offer an important window to understand the causes and prevent the progression of suicide phenomena. The need for frameworks to organize the fragmented field has been noted, but few studies are theoretically driven. An important recent contribution to understanding suicidality is Joiner's (2005) Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicide (IPTS). This article reviews the evidence for the applicability of the IPTS in adolescence. Seventeen studies of adolescents that specifically tested or interpreted findings in the light of Joiner's theory or the IPTS were located. In addition, several recent reviews of the literature on suicidality in adolescence covered information relevant to the IPTS. There is some support for the theory in adolescence, particularly with regard to its most novel component, the association between acquired capability and suicide attempt. In summary, we find this theory to be a promising heuristic to organize the disparate studies in suicide research. Future challenges and directions for researchers seeking to test and elaborate the applicability of the IPTS in adolescence include: adaptations of instruments to the developmental stage, capturing of imminent risk, and consideration of whether the current model is underspecified. Age might moderate adult findings that give impulsivity an indirect role in suicide attempts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-449
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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