School and Community Violence and Victimization as Predictors of Adolescent Suicidal Behavior

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined the extent to which violent behavior and peer victimization were associated with suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts in a nationally representative sample of 11,113 adolescents who completed the 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Boys were more likely to be involved in physical fighting and weapon carrying, whereas girls were more likely to report suicidal behavior and feeling unsafe at school. Predictors of suicidal behavior for both male and female adolescents included carrying a weapon, being threatened or injured at school, having property stolen or damaged at school, and getting in a fight. Carrying a weapon and getting in fights in the community, but not in the school, were significantly associated with suicidal behavior for girls. Feeling unsafe in school was predictive of suicidal behavior for girls, but not for boys. Implications for practice, including the importance of coordinating violence and suicide prevention efforts, are discussed.

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Suicide and violence prevention efforts occur in relative isolation from each other (Browne, Barber, Stone, & Meyer, 2005; Lubell & Vetter, 2006), although recent tragic events have highlighted the potential relationship between suicidal behavior and violence toward others (Lubell & Vetter, 2006). For example, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education's carefully conducted study of school shootings found that in 78% of cases the shooters exhibited suicidal ideation (Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002). This study further found that two-thirds of the perpetrators were bullied chronically, increasing the public's attention to issues of the potentially devastating effects of peer victimization.

The current study examined suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts for a large, nationally representative sample of high school students within the larger context of violence toward others and victimization. The specific focus of this study was the extent to which violent behaviors toward others (e.g., getting in a fight, carrying a weapon) and victimization (e.g., being threatened, being injured in a fight) in both community and school settings predicted the likelihood of male and female adolescents' suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts.

Suicidal Behaviors and Psychosocial Risk Factors

In addition to committing suicide, other suicidal behaviors include suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts. Studies have shown that 0.4% to 0.6% of adults report attempting suicide, whereas 2.8% to 3.3% have had thoughts of killing themselves, and 0.7% to 1.0% have made suicide plans within a 12-month time period (Borges Angst, Nock, Ruscio, & Kessler, 2008; Kessler, Berglund, Borges, Nock, & Wang, 2005). Alarmingly, rates for suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts are even higher for adolescents. Within a 12-month period, 20.5% to 29% of adolescents report having considered suicide (Brener, Krug, & Simon, 2000; Kandel, Raveis, & Davies, 1991), 15.7% to 19% have made a plan, and 7.7% to 8.7% have attempted suicide (Brener et al., 2000).

Previous attempts is one of the most powerful predictors of future suicide (Borges et al., 2008), although the presence of multiple psychological risk factors differentiates between people who think about killing themselves and those who develop exacerbated psychopathology and attempt suicide (Borges et al., 2008; Reinherz et al, 1995). A lack of mental health treatment and acute symptoms of depression and other psychiatric disorders are related to suicide attempts (Kelly, Lynch, Donovan, & Clark, 2001; King et al., 2001). Difficulties in interpersonal relations, as well as exposure to unstable home environments, are psychosocial risk factors that increase adolescents' risk for suicide attempts (Kelly et al., 2001). In addition, poor parental monitoring and familial psychiatric history both contribute to the risk for suicide attempts (Kandel et al. …