Burden and benefits-related suicides: “misperception” or state crafted reality?

(January 2022)

Mills, C. (2022). Journal of Public Mental Health, 21(1), pp. 46–56. doi:10.1108/jpmh-09-2021-0124.


This article aims to focus on deaths by suicide in relation to UK welfare reform as a case study to question one of suicidology’s most dominant theories – the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (Joiner, 2005) and its influential ideas on “perceived burdensomeness” – as well as wider ideologies on suicide and mental health reflected in this approach. Design/methodology/approach This article draws on evidence from disabled people’s campaigning groups (primary sources) and research literature (secondary sources), which shows the negative psychological impact of burden discourse and how this shows up in people’s accounts of feeling suicidal, in suicide notes and in family accounts of those who have died by suicide. It uses this evidence to problematise the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (Joiner, 2005), specifically its ideas about “burden” as an individual misperception, and the assumption that suicide is always the outcome of mental health problems. Read more