Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Elizabeth C. Pinel


Background and purpose: Formerly incarcerated people die by suicide at a rate 6.75 times higher than the general population, but previous research has not identified factors that contribute to this heightened risk. The conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate both suicide risk factors and the stressors of reentry. In the framework of stress proliferation theory, this study uses path analysis to identify paths from incarceration history to environmental factors (i.e., financial stress), interpersonal factors (i.e., social support and conflict), psychological factors (i.e., depression and existential isolation, the feeling of being alone in one’s subjective experience), and their subsequent relationship with suicidal ideation. Method: I examined cross-sectional survey data collected June-July, 2020 from American participants (n = 946) over the Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. Results: Indices of fit indicated poor fit of the path analysis model to the data. However, the majority of the pathways within the model reached significance. Specifically, incarceration predicted suicidal ideation by way of its relationship to financial concern and subsequent conflict and depression. In addition, incarceration predicted lower emotional support, which in turn predicted depression and suicidal ideation. Existential isolation mediated the relationship between incarceration and suicidal ideation. However, the pathways testing whether incarceration predicted existential isolation indirectly (by way of its relationship with emotional support and conflict), were not significant. In follow-up analyses, formerly incarcerated individuals who spent over six months incarcerated reported more suicidal ideation, existential isolation, and loss of meaning than those who spent less than six months incarcerated. Finally, the magnitude of the following relationships was stronger among those with an incarceration history than in those without: 1) financial concern and conflict, 2) financial concern and depression, 3) conflict and existential isolation, and 4) existential isolation and suicidal ideation. Implications: Reentry programs may target existential isolation and emotional support through connecting formerly incarcerated individuals with others with similar lived experiences. Policy changes that ease the financial burdens placed on formerly incarcerated individuals may also have positive downstream effects on their interpersonal relationships and emotional health.



Number of Pages

70 p.