Gender, Abuse Influence Teen Suicidal Behavior

Article excerpt

ORLANDO -- Girls in high school are more likely than are boys, regardless of age or race/ethnicity, to report being depressed, having seriously considered suicide, making a suicide plan, or attempting suicide in the past 12 months.

However, "when there is a suicide attempt, males are more likely to be injured than are females," according to Robert M. Fernquist, Ph.D. "Males, when they do it, tend to do it more severely."

In addition, a history of abuse emerged as the greatest predictor of suicidal behavior in these children.

"Rarely is suicide spontaneous--often there is a plan," said Dr. Fernquist, professor of sociology at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. "If there is a trajectory, there is probably depression first, then considering it, then making a plan."

For that reason, Dr. Fernquist focused on specific questions asked in five Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) surveys conducted between 1999 and 2007. He assessed answers to five questions that asked whether, during the last 12 months, the responder had been depressed, considered suicide, made a suicide plan, and/or attempted suicide; and of those who had attempted suicide, if they had been injured as a result (defined as requiring medical attention).

An average of 154 high schools and 14,424 students in grades 9-12 participated in the survey, for a total of approximately 70,000 responses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established the YRBSS to assess health-related behaviors in youth. Every other year, YRBSS researchers survey a nationally representative sample of public and private high school students.

Dr. Fernquist classified the students by gender as well as by age and race or ethnicity. For example, he compared responses from students aged 13-15 years with those aged 16-18 years because "younger teens ... are mentally different than older, more mature teens."

The percentage of high school students who had felt depressed in the previous 12 months was higher among girls across all groupings. "In every case, females were significantly more depressed than males," Dr. Fernquist said. For example, among students aged 13-15 years, 33% of black girls and 20% of black boys reported depression, as did 30% of Asian girls and 18% of Asian boys.

"Certainly not everyone who is depressed attempts suicide," Dr. Fernquist said. Overall, a weighted average of 14.5% of high school students said they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the previous 12 months.

Again, there was a female predominance for consideration of suicide across all age and racial or ethnic comparisons. …