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What is self-compassion and how do we measure it?

posted Oct 11, 2017, 5:24 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Oct 12, 2017, 2:38 AM ]

SBRL member Seonaid Cleare has written a summary of her recently published paper. Access the full paper here

Wikipedia describes self-compassion as “extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering”

The relationship between self-compassion and emotional distress has received a lot of research interest. Indeed, recent studies have reported significant associations between greater self-compassion and lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress (for a review see Barnard & Curry, 2011) and these relationships have been confirmed by meta-analyses (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012; Muris & Petrocchi, 2016). So far however, there has been limited research into the relationship between self-compassion and suicide risk. In this blog I discuss the first published paper from my PhD which is addressing this dearth in research by investigating the relationship between self-compassion and suicide risk within the context of the integrated motivational-volitional model of suicidal behaviour. Although I will report on the self-compassion-suicidality relationship in future blogs (and papers), I have focused on the assessment of self-compassion here.

This blog provides an overview of how we assessed the factor structure of the most widely used measure of self-compassion (Self-Compassion Scale (SCS) Neff 2003ab). The SCS (26 items) assesses the 3 positive (self-kindness, common humanity, mindfulness) and 3 negative (self-judgement, isolation, over-identification with thoughts) aspects of compassion. According to Kristin Neff, these components are interconnected. As such, she argues that the SCS can be used to yield an overall self-compassion score, or the scores from the individual subscales can also be used. Due to its composition and possibly because compassion is a relatively abstract concept, the factor structure of the SCS has been repeatedly scrutinized and a variety of alternatives proposed. However, the majority of these studies have been carried out in other languages and the emerging factor structures have been inconclusive. Indeed various factor structures have been cited in the literature leading to concerns that the factor structure of the SCS may not be stable and would benefit from further robust analyses.

Our study in Mindfulness reports an independent replication of Neff and Whittaker’s (2017) evaluation of the most common factor structures. These were as follows: the original six-factor correlated and higher-order models; a single-factor; a two-factor; a five-factor model and a bi-factorial model. Bi-factorial modelling accounts for covariance between factors arising from the presence of an overarching factor (in this case self-compassion), but the individual factors are able to retain and account for variance in their own subset of items (Reise, Moore & Haviland, 2010).

This was a repeated measures study in which 526 participants completed the SCS online at time 1 and 332 took part again at time 2. We conducted exploratory factor analysis (EFA) on time 1 data, confirmatory factor analyses (CFA) on time 2 data and then retested the models using the time 1 data. Omega indices (ω and ωH) were calculated to assess the reliability (ω) of the subscale scores and the total (ωH) self-compassion score.

Our findings were consistent with Neff et al.’s (2017) study; the bi-factorial model was the best fit to the data followed by the six-factor correlated model. Our omega indices showed that the subscales ranged from ω= .80 to .93 and the scale had an overall ω of 0.96 indicating that the subscales represent both self-compassion and the six factors. When we included the overarching compassion factor the subscale ωH reduced, indicating that the subscales were loading on to the overarching compassion factor too.

Take home message: Our findings support the use of the SCS to yield either subscale scores or a total self-compassion score. You can access the full paper (open access) here:


Barnard, L., & Curry, J. (2011). Self-Compassion: Conceptualizations, correlates & interventions. Review of General Psychology, 15 (4), 289-303.

Cleare, S., Gumley, A., Cleare, C.J., & O’Connor, R.C. (In press). An Investigation of the Factor Structure of the Self-Compassion Scale. Mindfulness

Muris, P., & Petrocchi, N. (2017). Protection or Vulnerability? A Meta-Analysis of the Relations Between the Positive and Negative Components of Self-Compassion and Psychopathology. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 24 (2), 373–383. doi: 10.1002/cpp.2005.

MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32, 545-552.

Neff, K. D., Whittakar, T., & Karl, A. (2017). Evaluating the factor structure of the Self-Compassion Scale in four distinct populations: Is the use of a total self-compassion score justified? Journal of Personality Assessment. Doi: 10.1080/00223891.2016.1269334

Neff, K. D. (2003a). Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2, 223-250.

Neff, K. D. (2003b). Self-compassion: an alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85–102.

Reise, S.P., Moore, T.M., & Haviland, M.G. (2010). Bifactor Models and Rotations: Exploring the Extent to Which Multidimensional Data Yield Univocal Scale Scores. Journal of Personality Assessment, 92, (6), 544-559. doi. 10.1080/00223891.2010.496477

Self-compassion. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from

3rd Suicide and Self-Harm Early Career Researchers’ Forum (ECRF18)

posted Oct 5, 2017, 2:15 AM by Karen Wetherall

The SBRL is pleased to announce the third Suicide and Self-Harm Early Career Researchers’ Forum (ECRF18), which will take place at the University of Glasgow on 7th and 8th June 2018. 

ECRF18 is open to all working in the field of suicide and self-harm research, but it is specifically targeted at Early Career Researchers. It will provide a space for support, networking, and collaborations among Masters, PhD, and Post-doctoral research students as well as more established researchers.

For more information visit our webpage here.

Suicide prevention: People urged to open up about struggles

posted Sep 28, 2017, 2:54 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Sep 28, 2017, 2:56 PM ]

As part of World Suicide Prevention Week, STV broadcast an extended news piece on suicide prevention. As well as speaking to those directly affected by suicide, STV also interviewed SBRL's Rory O'Connor and Billy Watson from Scottish Association for Mental Health.  Rory talked about our MQ Research funded Safety Planning and Telephone Support study for people following a suicide attempt. The report and video-clip from the STV website can be found here.  

Early identification and effective action vital to help prevent suicide

posted Sep 28, 2017, 2:33 PM by Karen Wetherall

The British Psychological Society publishes its call to action on how best to identify and support those at risk of suicide

Suicide is preventable. Early identification and effective action are key to ensuring people get the care they need.

This is one of the calls to action the British Psychological Society has announced in its new position statement “Understanding and preventing suicide: A psychological perspective” following World Suicide Prevention Day.

Professor Rory O’Connor (University of Glasgow) Chair of the working group who produced the position statement said:

“No civilised and caring society should tolerate this level of despair, hopelessness and avoidable tragedy. The early identification of suicidal thoughts and behaviour and effective care for those of us at risk are crucial in ensuring people receive the care they need and deserve. Action at an early stage is core to any strategy for suicide prevention.”

As well as calling for more Government investment into public mental health interventions and research in to psychosocial interventions solutions the BPS urges the Governments across the UK to ensure that those discharged from hospital, following self-harm or a suicide attempt, receive a follow-up appointment within three days.

Professor O’Connor added:

“It’s unacceptable that over 5,688 people in the UK died by suicide in 2016. Despite this suicide and suicide prevention research receive nowhere near the level of financial investment they need. Understanding the thoughts behind suicidal thinking and the factors that lead to people acting on their thoughts of suicide is vital to the development and implementation of effective prevention and intervention techniques.”

Our calls to action also include:

  • Individuals attending hospital following self-harm should be received by staff with compassion and understanding.
  • Improved training and education in health, social care and educational settings needed to understand better the barriers in asking for help.
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners should consider the development and introduction of mandatory GP training on identifying signs and symptoms of suicide ideation/behaviour; and appropriate referrals/immediate support.
  • Education departments across the UK should develop appropriate psychologically informed curricula content for children and young people.
  • UK Research and Innovation should establish increased funding for research into the causes of suicide and trials into suicide prevention, especially in vulnerable groups. 

#WSPD17 Rory O'Connor talks suicide prevention with his daughter

posted Sep 10, 2017, 5:13 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Sep 28, 2017, 3:22 PM ]

To coincide with #WorldSuicidePreventionDay, Rory O'Connor talks about suicide prevention with his daughter. #WSPD17

YouTube Video

Tiago Zortea listens in to ‘The Edge of Life’ on BBC Radio 4

posted Sep 5, 2017, 6:45 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Sep 5, 2017, 6:45 AM ]

SBRL's Tiago Zortea listens in to 'The Edge of Life on BBC Radio 4.  His review for The Psychologist is here.  

Entrapment and suicidal behaviour

posted Aug 17, 2017, 2:36 PM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated Aug 17, 2017, 2:43 PM ]

Professor Rory O'Connor (SBRL) and Professor Gwendolyn Portzky (Ghent University) have contributed an article to a special issue on suicide published in Current Opinion in Psychology.  

The article is available to read in full here.  

The article summarises the latest research into the relationship between entrapment and suicide risk, interpreted within the context of the Integrated Motivational-Volitional Model of Suicidal Behaviour.  As well as identifying the clinical implications, they also highlight the key directions for future research.    

On 13 Reasons Why: Acknowledging those working in suicide prevention

posted May 30, 2017, 9:15 AM by Karen Wetherall

A new blog by SBRL member Katerina Kavalidou on the recent TV programme 13 Reasons Why, and importance of recognising the often distressing work of those who work on suicide helplines.

Blog on the role of empathy in suicide prevention

posted May 30, 2017, 9:11 AM by Karen Wetherall

SBRL member Tiago Zortea recently wrote a blog on the role of empathy in suicide prevention, read it here:

Rory O'Connor elected to Executive Committee of IASP as Vice President

posted May 18, 2017, 8:45 AM by Karen Wetherall   [ updated May 18, 2017, 8:49 AM ]

Congratulations to SBRL's Rory O'Connor who has been elected as one of the Vice Presidents of the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

On his election, Rory commented: "I am delighted to be joining the Board of IASP and I look forward to working with my international colleagues in the years ahead as we continue to work for suicide prevention across the world."

"The timing is good as I finish my term as President and Past President of the International Academy of Suicide Research at the end of 2017 - and I look forward to re-directing my efforts to IASP."

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