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Reserch Points to Key Factors In Youth Suicide

New Research Points To Key Factors In Youth Suicide

Researchers at the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Otago University, have examined some of the key factors associated with youth suicide in this country. This study extends the previous findings of the Canterbury Suicide Project that depression is a major factor in youth suicide. The new research looks at those factors which distinguish between young people with depression who become suicidal and those with depression who do not.

Professor David Fergusson from the long running Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS), Dr Annette Beautrais from the Canterbury Suicide Project (CSP), with colleague John Horwood, examined data from over 1000 young people studied to the age of 21 as part of the CHDS.

"The intention was to examine, amongst young people with depression, the features of those who went on to develop suicidal thoughts or to make suicide attempts," explains Professor Fergusson.

The results, recently published in the leading journal Psychological Medicine, have confirmed previous findings from overseas research and the CSP about the major role of depression in suicidal behaviours:

Young people with depressive disorders have rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts that are between 5 and 10 times those of young people without depression. Nonetheless, many young people with depression do not become suicidal. The study also examines those factors which, when combined with depression, may tip the balance and cause a young person to develop suicidal tendencies.

The study suggests a range of factors that may influence the 'vulnerability' or 'resiliency ' of young people with depression to suicide. Factors associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviours are: suicidal behaviour in family members; childhood sexual abuse; personality factors (neuroticism, novelty seeking, self-esteem); low educational achievement; and friendships with other young people with problems.

The study shows that amongst depressed young people who score negatively on these factors, nearly two thirds develop suicidal thoughts and one third make a suicide attempt. Conversely, amongst those having a positive configuration of these factors less than one quarter consider suicide and only 5% make a suicide attempt.

"Our study shows that if a young person shows some or all of these factors in addition to depression, they are more likely to be vulnerable to suicidal behaviours," says Dr Beautrais.

"Although there has been a lot of speculation about the factors that make young people vulnerable or resilient to suicidal behaviours, this is the first study to have addressed this issue systemically using information gathered over the life course of a large sample of young people," says Professor Fergusson.

"In future research we hope to build on these findings to develop a clearer picture of the factors that make some depressed young people consider and attempt suicide, whilst others seem to have greater resiliency."

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