Source, Recency, and Degree of Stress in Adolescence and Suicide Ideation

Article excerpt

From the 1950s to the 1990s, the suicide rate among American youth rose from 4.5 to 13.2 per 100,000 population (National Center for Health Statistics, 1993). It is presently one of the leading causes of death for this age group (Maris, 1985; Neiger & Hopkins, 1988; Holmstrom, 1989). Further, it is estimated that the rate of attempted suicide is ten times higher than that of completed suicide (Maris, 1985).

One factor that increases the risk of suicide is depression (Lester & Gatto, 1989; Pfeffer et al., 1994), which may develop from perceived failure or difficulty coping with loss. Thus, a mental health crisis may set the stage for suicide ideation. Family disruption is also a contributing factor (Elkind, 1984; Rubenstein et al., 1989; Lester, 1991). The unrealistically high expectations placed on today's youth is yet another (Peters, 1985; Parker, 1988; Adcock, Nagy, & Simpson, 1991).

Stressors, especially within the previous year, have been linked to suicide ideation (Cole, Protinsky, & Cross, 1991). For youth, these include poor grades, drug and alcohol abuse, and increased pressure (Dixon, Rumford, Heppner, & Lips, 1992; Felts, Chenier, & Barnes, 1992; DuBois, Felner, Brand, Adan, & Evans, 1992; Greening & Dollinger, 1993). In turn, suicide ideation puts students at increased risk for suicide (Harkavy et al., 1987; Thompson, Moody, & Eggert, 1994).

The purpose of the present research was to investigate the relationship of source, recency, and degree of stress to the suicide ideation of high school students.

METHOD

Sample

Probability sampling was utilized. Students in five Knoxville, Tennessee, schools were randomly selected for inclusion in the study. Participants were drawn from the ninth through twelfth grades to ensure equal representation of all age groups. Students in ninth-grade English classes (both basic and college-preparatory), tenth-grade health classes, eleventh-grade United States history classes, and twelfth-grade economics classes were surveyed.

Instrument

Two scales were modified to form one survey instrument: the Adolescent Life Change Event Scale (ALCES) developed by Yeaworth, York, Hussey, Ingle, and Goodwin (1980) and the Beck, Schuyler, and Herman (1974) Suicidal Intent Scale. The instrument assessed the source and degree of stress through the use of the ALCES, the degree of suicide ideation through the addition of items from the Beck Suicidal Intent Scale, and the recency of occurrence of both stressors and items measuring suicide ideation.

Two life events relating to suicide were deleted from the 44-item ALCES because of overlap with the Beck Suicidal Intent Scale. Selection of 14 questions from the Beck scale was based on a review of the literature on characteristics of suicidal youth.

The instrument was pilot tested. Cronbach's alpha coefficient was .95 for questions regarding how upsetting the events would be to students and .88 for questions regarding the recency of the events. The instrument was found to have content and criteria validity.

The survey instrument was administered to students in the designated classes. They were assured anonymity and informed that they could withdraw at any time without penalty. Students who did not wish to participate were asked to complete the demographic portion and submit the survey at the end of the thirty-minute time frame.

Data Analysis

A multiple regression analysis was used to examine the extent, direction, and strength of the relationship between the independent variables (recency and degree of stressors) and the dependent variable (degree of suicidal ideation), with statistical significance set at the .05 level. Demographic data were analyzed using Tukey's multiple comparison test to determine if there were significant differences between groups.

RESULTS

Sample Characteristics

The composition of the sample was 52% male and 48% female; 80% were Caucasian, 18% African-American, and 2% other. …