Adolescence years are a time period of transformation via puberty. The production of sex hormones, testosterone for males and estrogen for females. These rapid changes within the adolescence lead to a fluctuation of emotion. Adolescence becomes more aware of the world around them and being to question everything from the way they were raised to the way the sky looks. They see things through their point of view but are unable to see other vantage points. This leads teens to believe that no one understands them. To their viewpoint, no one will be there to help them out when they are in drowning in sorrow.
In Erikson’s psychosocial theory, there are certain stages in which personality is created and built as an individual age. The events and emotions that each person can experience may vary, depending on the psychosocial crisis, which could be either good or bad. The crisis of each state is described as psychosocial because they involve human needs and the conflict these have with the needs that society forces upon people (Sokol, 2009). Erikson believed that the positive outcome or success of each stage will bring satisfaction/happiness and will result in strong personality characteristics. If someone fails to successfully complete a stage, he or she will have unhealthy personality traits and a confused sense of self. In total, there are eight psychosocial stages, including five stages that go up to the age of eighteen and three other stages beyond adolescent years (Erikson, 1980). In Erikson’s fifth stage, Identity vs. Role Confusion, which affects ages twelve to eighteen, is where individuals going through the teenage years explore their independence and build a sense of identity regarding their ego with the importance of fidelity as one basic virtue.
People in this stage begin to feel uncertainty as to how they fit into society. This is a stage where an adolescence must ask themselves; Who am I? in order to find their sense of self and build strong social connections with those around. This is where family members, especially parents, have an important role yet the most significant figures are the people and trends outside their household such as friends, groups, schoolmates and popular culture because they play a key role in shaping the individual’s identity (Erikson, 1994). As stated by Erikson, one way to successfully emerge from this stage is to receive encouragement and praise when exploring personal identity; resulting in a sense of independence, confidence, and fidelity. Those who receive positive reinforcement and praise from family and friends when they complete important tasks on their own are more likely to succeed in every aspect of their future.
However, those who are not capable of testing out different identities will remain unsure of their desires and lack a vision for their future will remain that way until they find success in upcoming years which represent another stage (Erikson, 1994). Erikson refers to this as role confusion and is predicted to fail in the upcoming stage; intimacy versus isolation which involves associations, personal style choices, and career paths. It has also been mentioned that the success or failure of individuals during this stage affects the quality of their fidelity. If an adolescent successfully completes Erikson’s fifth stage, then he or she will be able to sustain strong and trustworthy relationships that will help to succeed in a romantic relationship and other common things. Erikson notes that for many, this stage will be prolonged because identity formation tends to take long since one is acquiring skills that are going to be important and needed for adulthood (Erikson, 1980).
It has been stated that family, friends and social conditions shape a teenager during the fifth stage and therefore they are important roles, yet to what extent do these affect the lives of adolescents? It has been reported that suicide among individuals between the ages of fifteen to twenty-four is the second leading cause of death in the United States (NIH, 2018). According to the AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) those who attempt to commit suicide to suffer from mental disorders including depression (AACAP, 2017). Some factors that could contribute to depression disorder among teenagers are; exposure to violence, bullying, rejection and the lack of friends or caring family members. The suicide rate has significantly increased over the last seventeen years, correlating with substance abuse. According to another research by George E. Murphy, MD, adolescents who have alcohol and drug problems are at more risk of committing suicide because these intensify depression and its many factors (Murphy, 1988). Many believe that teenagers are living in a more accepting society in which they can openly express themselves, yet surveys and studies have shown that bullying rates have increased, and more than forty percent of students have experienced bullying at least once in their lives (Bullying Statistics & Information, 2011). Societal norms also exert a great amount of pressure among teenagers. In a society where teenagers feel it that it is expected of them to act and look a certain way, many lose themselves, making it hard to find an identity that fits.
As stated before, one factor that contributes to the high rates of suicide among teens is the failure to construct an identity that is healthy. Suicide is reported to be linked to stress coming from parental figures, lack of support and sexual identity. To successfully complete the fifth stage of Erikson’s psychosocial theory, he or her has to be able to relate and feel emotion towards others and therefore, the institution of the family is of primary importance to ignite healthy socialization habits among individuals (Robert, 2002). However, some households lack socialization and emotional bonding among family members, causing depression and disturbances among personality and identity development that are much more likely to develop into feelings of inferiority and doubt. Erikson recognized the significance of social context in a person’s personal development and linked a person’s sense of self to society and that is why he noted that socioemotional disturbances exert great influence on an individual and could lead to life-threatening behavior such as suicide and suicidal thoughts (Erikson, 1980).
According to Erikson, everything varies according to current societal norms and that is why he stated that it is important to resolve an identity crisis. One reason may be to stop the popularization of suicide. If suicide becomes acceptable among the teenage population, then the belief that suicide is an acceptable solution to unsolvable problems will emerge. Those who commit suicide have not seen another solution or in reference to Erikson’s theory, a way to find a place in society. If suicide becomes an acceptable escape, it is possible that more and more teenagers commit suicide thus weakening society and its survival skills.
It is also important to mention that people who have suicidal thoughts have not resolved their developmental tasks and if it is left unsettled it will bring failure to be autonomous, make poor life choices and will be unable to create healthy emotional attachments that will carry on onto the next three stages (Robert, 2002). The origins of life-threatening behavior can appear to be related to dissatisfaction or failure to succeed in previous stages; Erikson refers to this as a type of developmental syndrome that does not allow an individual to fully develop and therefore constructs self-destructive behavior to escape.