Progress Through Individuation and Suicide Risk Factors in Late Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood

Rochelle Steinwurtzel, Pace University


The relationship between psychopathology and suicide risk factors has been established in the literature. However, an understanding of the underlying psychological processes that have gone awry in individuals at risk for suicide has been hypothesized but not tested with a large sample. A focus on separation-individuation during adolescence and emerging adulthood elucidates the important task associated with developing a sense of identity and individuality. The young adult suicide attempt is discussed as a deadlock in development when individuation and the need for dependence are both equally intolerable. This study examined the relationship between specific demographic variables and the process of individuation/identity-formation in adolescence and emerging adulthood as they relate to suicidal ideation and potential. The relationship between individuation/identity-formation and suicidal ideation and potential was examined above and beyond the well-documented relationship between psychopathology and suicide risk factors. The sample consisted of 511 individuals seeking psychotherapy at an outpatient clinic in a large urban university. Progress through individuation was assessed using the Self Representations Profile. Suicide risk and psychopathology were assessed using the Personality Assessment Inventory. Results indicate that progress through individuation is significantly correlated with suicide risk factors. In particular, individuals who report higher levels of identity formation were significantly lower on suicide risk factors, while individuals who report higher rates of depressive or counter-depressive techniques of dealing with the process of individuation reported significantly higher levels of suicide risk factors. As expected, the strongest correlations with suicide risk factors were found for Suicidal Depression and Separation Distress. Hierarchical and logistic regression analyses suggest that progress through individuation is a strong predictor of suicidal ideation above and beyond the documented relationship between psychopathology and suicidal ideation; however, it does not add to the model predicting suicide potential after psychopathology variables have been included. An important implication of this study is the potential for guiding interventions and treatment of an adolescent population at risk for suicide. Useful therapeutic interventions might focus on helping these troubled individuals separate and then cathect to new objects. This could facilitate individuation rather than prolonging feelings of guilt, sadness, and anger related to the process of becoming one's self.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Steinwurtzel, Rochelle, "Progress Through Individuation and Suicide Risk Factors in Late Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood" (2011). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3462943.



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