Suicide Risk in Athletes: The Association between Participation in Sports, Sport-Related Injuries, and the Acquired Capability for Suicide




Boyd, Kristin

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Little is known about sport-related risk factors for suicide, yet Joiner’s interpersonal theory of suicide (2005) suggests that participation in sports may increase risk. Specifically, participation in sports involves exposure to pain and fear, especially in contact sports such as football, which may increase individuals’ acquired capability for suicide (ACS; Smith & Cukrowicz, 2010; Van Orden et al., 2010). The purpose of the current study was to clarify the associations between participation in sports, ACS, and sport-related injuries. We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between participation in sports and ACS, and that the frequency of sport-related injuries would moderate this association. Eighty-eight university students completed self-report measures of fearlessness about death (ACSS-FAD; Ribeiro et al., 2013), engagement in painful and provocative events (PPES; Bender et al., 2011), history of sports participation, and history of sport-related injuries. An objective measure of participants’ pain threshold (cf. pain tolerance) was also administered using a pain algometer. Participation in sports (see Figure 1 in Appendix C) was a significant predictor of fearlessness about death (p = .02), which contributes to elevated ACS. This information has clear clinical implications, given that some collegiate athletes experience psychological stressors, such as suffering a career-ending injury, that may contribute to suicidal desire and exacerbate suicide risk in the presence of higher levels of ACS (Baum, 2005; Smith & Milliner, 1994).