Social Problem Solving, Family Functioning, and Suicidal Ideation among Chinese Adolescents in Hong Kong

Article excerpt

Previous research has shown that there are both personal and family correlates of adolescent suicidal ideation. In particular, a number of studies indicated that social problem solving as a personal correlate was closely linked with suicidal behavior (e.g., Carrie et al., 1998; Yang & Clum, 1996). As a process measure, social problem solving is a cognitive-affective-behavioral construct which includes problem orientation and problem solving (D'Zurilla et al., 1996). According to the diathesis-stress-hopelessness model of suicidal behavior (Schotte & Clum, 1982), problem-solving variables may moderate the effects of stress on hopelessness, which in turn affects the occurrence of suicidal ideation. Although research based on college students and psychiatric patients (Schotte & Clum, 1982, 1987) supported this model, the results of another study with university students (Dixon et al., 1991) suggested that problem-solving appraisal and negative life stress were significant independent predictors of suicide ideation and hopelessness. Further, the literature on the relationship between social problem solving and adolescent suicide is not conclusive. On the one hand, there are research findings showing that suicide attempters had deficits in problem orientation and difficulty with the generation of alternatives, decision making and solution implementation, and verification (Kingsbury et al., 1999; Wilson et al., 1995). On the other hand, there are studies showing no significant problem-solving differences between groups of suicidal psychiatric inpatients, non-suicidal psychiatric inpatients, and community high school students (Fremouw et al., 1993; Kashden et al., 1993). Hence, the relationship between social problem solving and adolescent suicidal ideation needs to be further explored.

With specific reference to the Chinese culture, although research findings showed that problem solving was related to psychological well-being (e.g., Luo et al., 2004; Siu & Shek, 2005a), it should be noted that social problem solving is not emphasized in the Chinese culture. Several characteristics of Chinese families suggest this view. First, since .Chinese people uphold the Confucian ideal of maintaining interpersonal harmony, they tend to use avoidance, compromise, and tolerance rather than problem solving to resolve conflicts (Shek & Chan, 1998; Allison, 1997). Second, the hierarchical nature of Chinese families is a barrier to the application of problem-solving skills in family relationships. Chinese children are often expected to respect and follow their parents' advice rather than solve problems together with them (Graber et al., 1996). Third, due to the parent-centered culture, individual social problem-solving skills were also not strongly encouraged in the traditional Chinese culture. Therefore, it is theoretically and practically important to examine how social problem solving is related to adolescent suicidal ideation in the Chinese culture.

Besides personal correlates, different family processes are expected to have significant relationships with adolescent suicidal ideation. According to different family models, dimensions of family functioning including cohesion, adaptability, and communication are theoretically linked to adolescent psychological well-being (Beavers et al., 1990; Epstein et al., 1993; Olson et al., 1989). Some studies show that adolescent suicidal ideation is related to family dysfunction, family discord, poor family environment, family rigidity, family conflicts, and poor adaptability (Esposito et al., 2003; Spirito et al., 2003). Studies also show that low levels of family cohesion and support as well as high levels of parent-adolescent conflict are positively related to depression and suicidal ideation (Lee et al., 2006; Wong et al., 2002). However, a study by Mitchell and Rosenthal (1992) yielded inconsistent results. They evaluated families of both suicidal and non-suicidal psychiatric inpatient adolescents and found no significant group differences in terms of the mean family rigidity score. …