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Psychological Characteristics Associated With Risk for Suicidal Ideation Among Elderly Women



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ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to obtain an understanding of the psychological profile or psychological characteristics of elderly women who are at risk for or even experience suicidal ideation. Models of suicide among the elderly suggest that depressive symptoms, hopelessness, loneliness, anxiety, and lowered self-esteem are associated with the onset of suicidal ideation among elderly. In order to create two extreme groups (for the purpose of comparison) - - one designated as high-risk and the other as low-risk for suicidal ideation-- 76 women 65 years of age and older were administered a series of screening measures: the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, the Hopelessness Scale, the Revised UCLA Loneliness Scale, the Trait Anxiety scale from the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. None of those screened were found to be clinically depressed. Based on scores on the screening measures, a composite score was derived for each individual. Thirteen women from among those with the highest composite scores (i.e., the high-risk group) and 13 women from among those with the lowest composite scores (i.e., the low-risk group) were then chosen to participate in a second, follow-up phase. An open-ended interview, aimed at obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of the person, was then administered. Content analyses were used to examine the open-ended interviews of those who participated in the follow-up phase, culminating in the categorization of each individual along a series of psychological dimensions, including the achievement of several developmental tasks (as described by Erikson [1982]). A descriptive approach was used to examine the causal and preventative factors cited by those who acknowledged suicidal ideation--passive or active. Chi-square analyses were used to examine the relationship between risk category (i.e., high or low) and status on the psychological attributes. The results indicated that suicidal ideation was more common among those women in the high-risk category. Further, several psychological factors were found to differentiate the two risk groups, including: the ability to describe the self, the approach to physical health, the style of coping with bereavement, attitudes toward relationship, facing death, and Erikson's concepts of grand-generativity and the life-review process. Results were discussed. in terms of the adequacy of existing models in accounting for these psychological factors and in terms of their relationship to Erikson's developmental theory. Methodological considerations, as well as avenues for future research, were also discussed.





Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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