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Perfectionism and suicide ideation : an assessment of the specific vulnerability hypothesis and stress generation model Chen, Chang


The relationship between trait perfectionism and suicide behaviours (see Hewitt, Flett, Sherry, & Caelian, 2006; O’Connor, 2007 for reviews) has been reported in many studies and there is very strong evidence that one interpersonal component of perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism (i.e., the perception that others require perfection of oneself) is particularly relevant in suicide ideation and attempt among psychiatric adolescents as well as clinical and nonclinical adults (e.g., Enns et al., 2001). However, few studies have examined the mechanism by which trait perfectionism is associated with suicidality. Hewitt and Flett (1993, 2002) suggested that perfectionism can play a moderating role in producing psychopathology by enhancing or exacerbating the aversiveness of congruent or ego-involving stressful events (i.e., Specific Vulnerability Hypothesis). Perfectionistic behaviour also can play a mediating role in its association with psychopathology by contributing to the generation of stress (i.e., Stress Generation Model). Hence, the general purpose of this paper was to examine whether perfectionism generates and interacts with life stress in influencing suicide ideation measured concurrently as well as longitudinally. The current study measured perfectionism traits, stress, depression, hopelessness, and suicide ideation among 437 community adults (mean age=58.6, men=175) six months apart. Consistent with the Specific Vulnerability Hypothesis (Hewitt & Flett, 1993), a significant Perfectionism x Stress interaction was found for self-oriented perfectionism (i.e., striving relentlessly to perfectionistic personal standards) and achievement stress in predicting Time 2 suicide ideation among female participants even after controlling for Time 1 suicide ideation and depression. Socially prescribed perfectionism, however, also interacted significantly with achievement stress to predict Time 2 suicide ideation among female participants, hence providing partial support for Specific Vulnerability Hypothesis. Furthermore, mediational analyses via bootstrapping indicated that stress (i.e., achievement stress, interpersonal stress) mediated the relationship between socially prescribed perfectionism and subsequent levels of suicide ideation for both genders. Together, the current findings support the notion that certain perfectionism traits can act as vulnerability factors that enhance or generate stresses in influencing risk of suicide ideation. Implications of the present findings for understanding the perfectionism-suicide link and assessment and treatment for perfectionistic patients are discussed.

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