Factors That Contribute to Repeated Suicide Attempts in Teens

Preventing teen suicide is a murky science. Though there are many mental disorders associated with suicidal ideation, often a suicide attempt is the first indication that a mental disorder is in play.

Academic, extracurricular and social pressures are common to most teens and can lead to suicidal ideation, but there are additional circumstances that significantly increase risk – childhood trauma, for instance, in which a teen experienced abuse or neglect.

A study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital examined the factors that predict repeat suicide attempts among teens. The study was led by Dr. Anne Rhodes, a research scientist at the Suicide Studies Research Unit at St. Michael’s. The findings appeared in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

The research team looked at several factors involved in repeated teen emergency room visits for suicide-related behaviors, including age, gender, a history of maltreatment, neighborhood of residence and having a mental disorder diagnosis.

The authors of the study hope to use risk factors to determine the likelihood that an emergency room visit for suicide-related treatment will attempt suicide a second or third time. The findings can also be used to develop preventive methods and screenings for trauma history, as well as aiding in diagnosing mental disorders.

The researchers examined records from 6,484 youths between the ages of 12 and 17 that had been treated in an emergency room for suicidal behavior. The treatments all occurred between 2004 and 2008 in Ontario, Canada.

The researchers then used the information to track which patients were treated again for suicidal behaviors through 2010, with a focus on repetitions among 179 patients who had been removed from their home of origin. The researchers found that teens who had been removed from their parental home were more than twice as likely to engage in repeated suicidal behaviors. This group, the researchers felt, could benefit from additional support and prevention efforts.

There was also a high rate of mental disorder diagnoses among those teens treated for suicidal behavior. Those with a mental disorder were twice as likely to return for suicide-related treatment.

In addition, girls and patients between the ages of 12 and 13 were more likely to return to the emergency department for suicide-related treatment when compared with boys and those over the age of 13.

The findings highlight the need for a full assessment. Instead of screening for a handful of mental disorders that are associated with suicidal ideation, clinicians should provide a more comprehensive approach. Teens should be put in contact with a social worker and child welfare personnel in order to determine whether there is a history of neglect or abuse, according to Dr. Rhodes, in order to prevent suicide.

Suicidal ideation is associated with various mental health symptoms, as well as a history of childhood trauma and substance use. It is important for teens being treated for suicidal behaviors to receive a full, comprehensive assessment to determine an effective treatment strategy that will prevent repeat suicide attempts. In addition, the screenings can help identify the underlying disorder or event that could be contributing to the behavior.