Suicide is now the leading cause of death among Chinese young adults aged 15–34 years, accounting for 19% of all deaths in this age group annually
]. Mental disorders, particularly depression, substance-related disorders, and disruptive behavior disorders are associated with 88.6% of completed suicide among young people worldwide
]. However, only a small proportion of those with mental disorders actually die by suicide. Furthermore, only approximately half of Chinese suicide cases are diagnosed with any mental disorders
], suggesting that other important factors are involved in the path from psychopathology to suicidality in Chinese young adults.
Key constructs should be defined before the introduction of major findings. Most experts agree that suicide is a continuum of suicidal ideation, planning, attempt and completion
]. Therefore, suicidality we discuss includes suicidal ideation, planning, non-fatal suicide attempt, and completed suicide.
Previous findings suggest that suicide results from many complex socio-cultural and personal factors. One of these is religiosity. The relationship between religiosity and decreased suicide rates has been well documented in Western societies
]. Recent studies have found that religious affiliation is associated with less suicide risk in depressed inpatients, suggesting that moral objections to suicide and lower aggression level in religiously affiliated subjects might function as protective factors against suicide attempts
]. Another study found that religious attendance was associated with decreased level of suicide attempt and remained significant after adjusting for social support in a nationally representative sample in Canada
]. It is not clear, however, to what extent individuals who identify themselves with a high degree of religious belief, per se, contribute to a decreased suicide rate.
China is an officially atheist country with one of the lowest rates (less than 10%) in the world of people who consider themselves religious
]. Religious believers are still treated as a minority population because of their small number and political disadvantage. In a psychological autopsy study conducted in Chinese rural young adults, it was found that religiosity was associated with increased suicide intent, contrary to findings in Western cultures
]. In an attempt to explain suicidality in Chinese rural areas, Zhang et al.
] argued, in his psychological strain theory, that churchgoers in China might experience more value conflict within the mainstream Chinese culture, and such mental strain could lead to elevated suicide risk. Complementing Zhang et al.’s work, another study found that joining the Communist Party or Communist Youth League was a protective factor against suicide among Chinese rural young adults
]. The interpersonal psychological theory of suicidality proposed by Joiner
], which stresses the role of joint occurrence of perceived burdensomeness and failed belongingness in individuals who develop suicidal ideation, could also provide insight into the association of suicidal intent and religiosity. It illustrates why belonging to the Communist Party could serve as protection against suicide. However, the above studies were conducted mainly in Chinese rural populations. We cannot infer that religiosity is associated with elevated suicide risk in China without examining the interactive effect of political belief and religious belief in a diversified sample.
As is well known, China’s political system is characterized by a communist party administration, with communism and socialism being the mainstream ideologies nationwide since 1949
]. Contemporary Chinese youth, religious or non-religious, are growing up with the development of political belief as a main aspect of their self-identity. Historically, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism have greatly shaped Chinese society
]. Confucianism is not considered a dominant religion in this article because compared with Western religions, contemporary Confucianism is characterized by no religious rituals, is less institutionalized, and does not involve belief in an afterlife or Supreme Being. It is instead a way of life in connection to society
]. Confucianism, with its moral, social, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious thought, has had a far-reaching influence on Chinese history and culture. In Confucianism, human beings are teachable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavors. Confucianism upholds the cardinal moral values of ren
(humanity) and yi
(righteousness) in achieving personal perfection with meaningful lives
]. Modern China witnessed a decline in the popularity of Confucianism, but in the past 20 years there has been a renaissance of Confucianism in its political system
]. Nowadays, Confucianism remains the main philosophy that syncretizes well with Marxism, shaping Chinese youths' moral and political beliefs
]. The construction of a harmonious society emphasizing overall societal balance and harmony, promoted by the 2005 National People's Congress, has been the most important recent development in socialism with Chinese characteristics theory and is consistent with the Confucian cardinal notion of tian ren he yi
(nature and man are an integral whole)
Questions about what contemporary Chinese youths believe in and how to cultivate appropriate belief system among young people have been a continuous focus of Chinese educators’ and sociologists’ attention
]. However, the relationship between belief system, especially political belief and mental health, remains unexplored. The main reason for this is that the concept of a belief system is so abstract that it is hard to measure and define precisely. To clarify terms in this study, operational definitions are provided as follows. Belief system is defined as a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs may be religious, ideological, philosophical, or a combination of these
]. Political belief refers to a set of ideas held by a group of people that are used to understand the structure of forces in society, existing mechanisms of economic distribution, and conflicts in society (e.g., communism, socialism, and Confucianism in today’s China)
]. Religious belief refers to a mental state in which faith is placed in a creed related to the supernatural, sacred, or divine. Such a state may be associated with the existence, characteristics, and worship of a deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or values and practices centered on the teachings of a spiritual leader
Another aim of the current study was to investigate other important factors that could shed light on the link between belief system and suicidality. One such factor is meaningfulness, a construct that relates to religiosity
] and suicide
] in the literature. Meaningfulness is defined as “perceived purpose and significance of life or existence in general” in this article. Previous research has found that meaningfulness is a protective factor against mental problems in Chinese young adults
]. Another important factor is psychopathology, the most well-known risk factor for suicide
]. Psychopathology is inversely related to meaningfulness in Chinese college students
]. Illuminating the role of meaningfulness and psychopathology in pathways to suicidality could help to prevent suicide in young adults.
The principal purpose of the current study was to investigate the effect of belief system, including political and religious beliefs, as well as their interaction on suicidality in a nationally representative sample of Chinese young adults. The current sample focused on first-year college students, given that religious and political identities presumably become mature in late adolescence
]. We aimed to test and modify structural equation models (SEM) to help in understanding the pathway to suicidality among variables of political belief, religious belief, meaningfulness, and psychopathology. The hypotheses of the current model were the following.1) Political belief and religious belief are directly associated with suicidality, although mediated by meaningfulness and psychopathology. 2) Psychopathology mediates the effect of meaningfulness on suicidality. 3) The interaction of political belief and religious belief impacts suicidality, although mediated by meaningfulness and psychopathology. 4) Female gender is associated with elevated suicide risk, as has been found in other Chinese studies
]. Therefore, we assume that gender-related differences would have complex influences on suicidality that could be assessed by multi-group analyses using gender as the grouping variable.