Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Heather L. Servaty-Seib

Committee Chair

Heather L. Servaty-Seib

Committee Member 1

Eric Deemer

Committee Member 2

Carrie Wachter-Morris

Committee Member 3

Kipling Williams


Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the college student population (Schwartz, 2006), and empirically supported theories for understanding suicide among college students are lacking (Lester, 1989; Prinstein, 2008; Rogers & Benson, 2013). Although not yet examined empirically, Rogers (2001) proposed an Existential - Constructivist Theory of Suicide (ECTS), in which existential distress and the inability to reconstruct meaning from adverse life events contribute to suicidal ideation. ECTS includes both interpersonal and intrapersonal drivers of suicidal ideation, and for this reason, may better explain suicidal ideation in college students than existing theoretical models. Existing research focuses on Joiner’s (2005) Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (ITS) which proposes that two interpersonal cognitive - affective states (i.e., perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness) contribute to suicidal ideation (i.e., thoughts about death by suicide). Thus, in the present study I (a) tested the central hypotheses of the ECTS in a college student sample and (b) compared the model fit of the ECTS to the ITS to assess which statistical model best explained suicidal ideation in college students. Survey data were collected electronically from 195 college students (i.e., aged 18 – 25) attending Purdue University. Data were analyzed using SEM. The results supported the predictions of the ECTS. Specifically, existential distress was positively associated with suicidal ideation and meaning reconstruction was negatively associated with suicidal ideation. Contrary to Rogers’s (2001) original model of ECTS, but consistent with recent literature on meaning reconstruction, existential distress mediated the association between meaning reconstruction and suicidal ideation. Although both ECTS and ITS demonstrated adequate model fit to the data, goodness of fit statistics indicated ECTS fit the data better in this sample, overall. Results of this study provide preliminary support that meaning reconstruction may be a protective factor for suicidal ideation, which can be used to (a) refine theories of suicidal ideation and (b) develop suicide prevention and treatment programs for suicidal college students. Results should be interpreted considering limitations of this study, such as low survey response rate, homogeneity of the sample, measurement limitations, and lack of ITS replication compared to previous research.