Perfectionism does not distinguish suicide ideators from suicide attempters

Perfectionism appears to be a risk factor in suicide, but is probably not linked to the progression from suicidal thoughts to suicide attempts, according to a new study published in Personality and Individual Differences.

(If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)

“We were interested in exploring this topic because perfectionism is a personality construct hypothesized to be relevant in understanding suicide risk and outcomes,” said study author Arezoo Shahnaz of the University of British Columbia.

A review of 45 studies with 11,747 participants, for example, found perfectionism was associated with suicide ideation — particularly perfectionism involving a perceived external pressure to be perfect.

“Previous research has also suggested that perfectionism is related to suicide ideation (suicidal thoughts) and distinguishes suicide attempters from non-attempters. However, it was unclear whether perfectionism distinguishes suicide attempters from suicide ideators, which then became the main goal of the study.”

The researchers surveyed 194 nonsuicidal individuals, 164 individuals with a history of only suicidal thoughts, and 107 individuals with a history of attempted suicide.

They found that perfectionism tended to be higher among suicide ideators compared to nonsuicidal participants. But there was no significant difference in perfectionism between suicide ideators and suicide attempters.

“Perfectionism is best conceptualized as a correlate and possible contributor to suicide ideation, but does not distinguish suicide ideators from suicide attempters,” Shahnaz told PsyPost.

In other words, perfectionism is a risk factor for suicide ideation but probably does not indicate a further risk for attempting suicide.

“The data for this study was collected cross-sectionally, at one point in time, thus it is unclear whether perfectionism is best thought of as a correlate, cause, or consequence of suicide ideation,” Shahnaz explained. “Future research should collect longitudinal data over time to clarify the role of perfectionism in risk for suicide ideation.”

The study, “The relationship of perfectionism to suicide ideation and attempts in a large online sample“, was authored by Arezoo Shahnaz, Boaz Y. Saffer, and E. David Klonsky.