The influence of meaning in life on the relationship between perfectionism and suicidality : implications for interventions on college campuses
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Recently, researchers and college stakeholders have called for suicide prevention initiatives that move beyond intervention at the individual level and address the mental health of the college student population as a whole. In an effort to inform those interventions, it is of value to identify risk and protective factors that may influence a student’s likelihood to develop distressed and suicidal thoughts. Perfectionistic concerns (i.e., a perceived discrepancy between self and standards) have been identified as putting students at risk for distressed and suicidal thoughts. Studies of the relationship between perfectionistic standards (i.e., striving to meet high standards) and mental health outcomes have yielded mixed results. Presence of meaning in life has been identified as a factor that is protective against distressed and suicidal thoughts, whereas the search for meaning is often linked to negative mental health outcomes. Using archival data from a national survey collected in 2016 by the National Research Consortium of Counseling Centers in Higher Education, the current study sought to further investigate these risk and protective factors by determining whether either dimension of meaning in life might influence the relationship between perfectionism (in both its adaptive and maladaptive forms) and the continuum of distress and suicidality. Hierarchical multiple regression was used to investigate the aforementioned relationships. Results indicated that neither having a sense of meaning, nor searching for meaning, played a significant role in influencing the associations between perfectionism and the distress and suicidality continuum. Results identified both perfectionistic concerns and searching for meaning as potential variables that place students at risk for progressing along the continuum of distress and suicidality, whereas the presence of meaning in life was identified as a factor that may protect against a student’s progression along that continuum. Results did not support a relationship between perfectionistic standards and the distress and suicidality continuum. Implications of these findings are discussed in the context of population-based programming that could be introduced on college campuses to reduce the likelihood that a student would enter onto, and progress along, the continuum of distressed and suicidal thoughts.