The Relationship between Dating Violence and Suicidal Behaviors in a National Sample of Adolescents

Article excerpt

Relationship violence is a common problem faced by adolescents in the United States. In general, adolescents are at higher risk for relationship victimization than adults (Silverman, Raj, Mucci, & Hathaway, 2001), and females between the ages of 16 and 24 years are at the highest risk of relationship victimization (Rennison, 2001). This study uses data from the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBSS) System (or referred to as Youth Risk Behavior Survey [YRBS]; N = 11,781) of adolescents between the ages of 14 and 17 years to estimate two logistic regression models on the association between relationship violence and suicidal behaviors controlling for variables such as sexual assault and drug use. The findings indicated that victimized adolescents are at higher risk for planning and/or attempting suicide compared to nonvictimized adolescents. Implications for research and practice are explored.

Keywords: juvenile behavior; suicide; sexual assault; adolescent dating violence; suicidal ideation

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults in the United States (The National Adolescent Health Information Center [NAHIC], 2006). Statistics indicate that suicidal behavior increases dramatically between early adolescence (10-14 years old) and young adulthood (20-24 years old; NAHIC, 2006). Furthermore, for every successful adolescent suicide, there are approximately 100-200 unsuccessful attempts (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2009). On average, males are more likely to be successful in their suicide attempts, whereas females tend to engage in much higher rates of nonfatal suicidal behavior (Brockington, 2001). In fact, research indicates that 1 in 10 adolescent girls are estimated to have attempted suicide in her lifetime as compared to 1 in 25 adolescent boys (Lewinsohn, Rohde, & Seeley, 1996). Clearly, adolescent suicidal behavior is a major public health concern.

Given the alarming prevalence of suicidal behavior among adolescents in the United States, more research on the causal factors of suicidal ideation and actions will be influential in developing appropriate prevention strategies targeting adolescent populations. Research on risk factors of suicidal behavior among adolescents and young adults indicate that substance abuse, sexual assault, family violence, psychological disorders such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and family history of substance abuse or psychological disorders predict suicidal behavior (Deykin & Buka, 1994; Epstein & Spirito, 2009; Flisher et al., 2000; Wilcox & Anthony, 2004; Wu et al., 2004). A number of studies have suggested a relationship between both physical and sexual violence and suicidal behavior; however, few studies have specifically explored the association between relationship violence and subsequent suicidal ideation or actions. Fewer still have examined the relationship of these variables among adolescent samples.

The adolescent stage in development corresponds with initiation into dating relationships. In adolescence, teenagers begin to experiment with various romantic and sexual experiences as well as some of the negative outcomes of those experiences, including violence. Because teenagers are relatively inexperienced with relationships, they are often more vulnerable to victimization. Adolescent dating relationships often involve physical or sexual violence, or both. In fact, teenagers are at higher risk for intimate partner violence than adults (Silverman, Raj, Mucci, & Hathaway, 2001). At the same time, females are more likely than males to be a victim of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or known perpetrator. Survey data indicates that about 20% of female high school students report being physically or sexually assaulted by a date (Silverman et al, 2001). In fact, females between the ages of 16 and 24 years are at the highest risk for IPV, three times higher than the national average (Rennison, 2001). …