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The role of identity in depression: A comparison of younger and older adults

Mark Ian Weinberger, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The current study examined the relationship between Identity Process Theory (IPT; Whitbourne, 1986) and depressive symptoms in an older (>65) and younger (17-25) adult sample. IPT aims to explain how persons interpret and use information from their environments through three different identity processes, identity assimilation (IAS), which is defined as maintaining self-consistency; identity accommodation (IAC), which is defined as making changes to the self, and identity balance (BAL), which is defined as maintaining a sense of self, but changing when necessary. A total of 123 persons (68 older; M=74.4; 55 younger; M=19.6) participated in this study. The Identity and Experiences Scale-G (Whitbourne, Sneed, & Skultety, 2001) was used to measure identity, and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale-20 (CESD-20; Radloff, 1977) was used to measure depressive symptoms. The current study tested two models of the relationship between identity and depressive symptoms. One model tested whether or not the three identity processes of IPT mediate the relationship between age and depressive symptoms and between gender and depressive symptoms. The second model tested age and gender as moderators of the relationship between IPT and depression, while simultaneously testing the identity processes as mediators of the relationship between health and depression. Path analyses using Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) were used to fit the models. Findings indicated a clear relationship between the three identity processes and depression, such that IAC was positively associated with depressive symptoms and the use of BAL was negatively associated with depressive symptoms. The first model found that the relationship between age and depression was mediated by the identity processes such that older adults’ use of IAS decreases, and the use of IAC increases the likelihood of reporting depressive symptoms. The second model found that the relationship between identity and depression was moderated by age but not gender. The relationships among identity, health and depressive symptoms also differed by age group, and these patterns are discussed. By recognizing aspects of an individual’s identity that can lead to depressive symptoms, clinicians may be better able to develop focused and specific therapeutic approaches to reducing depressive symptoms from an identity perspective.

Subject Area

Gerontology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Weinberger, Mark Ian, "The role of identity in depression: A comparison of younger and older adults" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3329949.