Control and Suicidality: Associations Among Perceived Control, Desire for Control, Causal Uncertainty, and Suicidal Ideation

Justyna Maria Jurska, Fordham University


Background: Previous research shows that feeling in control over the environment is adaptive and may promote psychological well-being. The current study examined the unique and conjoint effects of control-related constructs (e.g., perceived control, primary and secondary control, desire for control) and causal uncertainty on suicidal ideation (SI). Method: Two hundred seventy-one adults (54% female; M = 23.81, SD = 5.76) were recruited online through Participants completed an online survey of self-report measures assessing perceived control, desire for control, primary control, secondary control, causal uncertainty, and current SI. Participants were also asked about the impact of COVID-19 on their current circumstances, level of distress, and perceived control. Simple and multiple linear regressions were performed using SPSS. Moderation and exploratory moderated moderation analyses were conducted using PROCESS macro. The False Discovery Rate procedure was used to adjust for multiple comparisons. Results: Perceived control, primary control, and secondary control statistically predicted decreased SI, while causal uncertainty predicted increased SI. Desire for control neither predicted SI nor significantly moderated the association between perceived control and current SI. However, primary control significantly moderated the association between causal uncertainty and SI, while secondary control did not. Thus, among individuals with medium and high levels of primary control, increasing causal uncertainty was associated with increased SI. Exploratory analyses revealed that the moderation results for primary and secondary control did not vary by age or gender. Finally, there was a significant interaction between causal uncertainty and pandemic-related perceived control in predicting SI, showing that at medium and high levels of COVID-19-related perceived control, the association between causal uncertainty and SI was stronger. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the suicide literature may be enriched by examining constructs related to individuals’ perceptions and preferences for control. The results also highlighted that chronic doubts about one’s understanding of the social world may contribute to SI. Further, although a strong sense of primary control may be associated with decreased SI, it may enhance risk for suicide among adults who struggle with chronic causal uncertainty. Clinical implications and future research directions are discussed.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Mental health|Behavioral psychology

Recommended Citation

Jurska, Justyna Maria, "Control and Suicidality: Associations Among Perceived Control, Desire for Control, Causal Uncertainty, and Suicidal Ideation" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28541864.