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The missing link: An empirical investigation of the relationship between identity dysfunction and suicidality
AuthorSkutch, Julie M
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Nearly 45,000 people die by suicide in the U.S. alone each year and rates continue to rise. While much research has been done to identify risk factors, a clearer understanding of these has done little to arrest or even reduce the growing rates of suicide despite an increase in the availability of evidence-based treatments designed to address it. An important potential risk factor for suicide, beyond psychopathology, which warrants further attention is that of identity. Research to date clearly demonstrates an indirect relationship between identity and suicide. Multiple studies establish associations between identity dysfunction, mental health symptoms, and risk factors associated with suicide. However, there is a dearth of research that directly examines the link between identity and suicidality. The purpose of the current study was to directly test the relationship between identity and suicidality. This study also sought to clarify confusion in the conceptualization and measurement of identity processes hampering research in this area to date. Exploratory factor analysis revealed four unique identity constructs capturing healthy and abnormal identity processes. Results indicated that identity distress, identity disturbance, and disruption in roles all predicted a range of suicidality, including ideation and past attempts. Identity variables also predicted suicidality above and beyond known predictors, such as NSSI, thwarted belongingness, and perceived burdensomeness. This study clarifies the direct link between identity and suicide, a step toward better triage and treatment for those at risk of suicide across mental and public health sectors.