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Short Report

The Impact of the 2009 Red River Flood on Interpersonal Risk Factors for Suicide

Published Online:

Background: Natural disasters are frequently associated with increases in risk factors for suicide, yet research indicates that suicide rates tend to stay the same or decrease in the wake of disasters (e.g., Krug et al., 1999). Aims: The present research sought to shed light on this counterintuitive phenomenon by testing hypotheses derived from Joiner’s (2005) interpersonal-psychological theory of suicidal behavior, which proposes that the desire to die by suicide is the result of feeling like one does not belong and feeling like one is a burden on others. During natural disasters, community members often pull together in volunteering efforts, and it was predicted that such behaviors would boost feelings of belonging and reduce feelings that one is a burden. Methods: The present study tested these predictions in a sample of 210 undergraduate students in Fargo, North Dakota, following the 2009 Red River Flood. Results: Consistent with prediction, greater amounts of time spent volunteering in flood efforts were associated with increased feelings of belongingness and decreased feelings of burdensomeness. Conclusions: The findings in the current study are consistent with the notion that communities pulling together during a natural disaster can reduce interpersonal risk factors associated with the desire for suicide.