, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 357-373

Attachment, individuation, and risk of suicide in late adolescence

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Security of attachment and level of individuation from parents and peers was examined among 126 undergraduates, 42 with a history of suicidality, 42 who were currently depressed with no history of suicidality, and 42 normal controls. Suicidality was defined as history of serious suicidal ideation or suicide attempt. As predicted, students with a history of suicidality exhibited both the lowest security of attachment as well as the least degree of individuation in their current relationships with parents. In contrast, they were similar to depressed and control students on security of peer attachment and level of individuation from peers. Students with a history of suicidality rated their parents and mother as emotionally absent in childhood to a significantly higher degree than depressed and normal controls. This effect was independent of depression but not from gender. History of suicidality is more strongly associated with family instability than with parental divorce. Absence of parents as emotionally available attachment figures at a time when such availability is critical heightens adolescents' vulnerability to suicide.

This research is based on the author's doctoral dissertation in clinical psychology, Boston University. The author was previously Clinical Fellow in Psychology, Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Major interests include attachment, suicidality, and adolescent family relationships.