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Adolescent Victimization and Associated Suicidal and Violent Behaviors

By Cleary, Sean D. | Adolescence, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Victimization and Associated Suicidal and Violent Behaviors


Cleary, Sean D., Adolescence


ABSTRACT

This study examined the relationship between victimization and both suicidal and violent behaviors among 1,569 public high school students in New York State (excluding New York City). They had participated in the 1997 Youth Risk Behavior Survey and, based on their responses, were divided into four groups: no suicidal or violent behavior, suicidal behavior only, violent behavior only, and both suicidal and violent behaviors. Males reported significantly more victimization, less suicidal behavior, and more violent behavior compared with females. Logistic regression analyses indicated that all categories of suicidal/violent behaviors were more frequent among those who had been victimized compared with the nonvictimized, for both males and females. In addition, victimized males were over two times more likely than victimized females to report violent behavior only. Gender differences were not significant for victimized students in two groups, suicidal behavior only and both suicidal and violent behaviors, althoug h the results were in the hypothesized direction for suicidal behavior (e.g., females were more prone to suicidal behavior only). It was concluded that identifying and treating the victims of violence should be an integral component of suicide prevention programs and interventions aimed at reducing interpersonal violence in schools.

National data indicate that although mortality among American adolescents has declined by 13% over the past two decades, morbidity has increased (Sells & Blum, 1996). Research has shown that the greatest threat to adolescents' health is their own behavior (Resnick, Bearman, Blum, Bauman, Harris, Jones, et al., 1997). For example, interpersonal violence is responsible for many fatal and nonfatal injuries among adolescents (Cotton, Resnick, Browne, Martin, McCannahen, & Woods, 1994), and such violence has increased by 27% among youths aged 16 to 19 (Sells & Blum, 1996; Singh & Yu, 1996). Further, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults (National Center for Health Statistics, 1997), and suicidal behavior has increased by 35% among those aged 15 to 19 (Sells & Blum, 1996; Singh & Yu, 1996).

Research has indicated that peer victimization may result in a negative self-evaluation (Crick & Bigbee, 1998), which in turn may lead to internalizing problems, such as depression, dissociation, or suicidal behavior (Briere, 1992). In contrast, a victim's negative evaluation of peers may result in self-control problems, such as aggressive behavior or fighting (Crick & Bigbee, 1998; Egeland & Sroufe, 1981; Friedrich, Beilke, & Urquiza, 1988). Thus, victimization may adversely affect developmental processes, predisposing the victim to serious adjustment problems in later life (Cicchetti & Lynch, 1993; Finkelhor, 1995; Parker & Asher, 1987).

A number of studies of adolescent risk behaviors have reported a relationship between suicidal and violence-related behaviors (Neumark-Sztainer, Story, French, Cassuto, Jacobs, & Resnick, 1996; Orpinas, Basen-Engquist, Grunbaum, & Parcel, 1995; Sosin, Koepsell, Rivara, & Mercy, 1995). Using national data from the 1990 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), Sosin, Koepsell, Rivara, and Mercy (1995) examined the relationship between fighting and various health risk behaviors. Results indicated that suicidal and violence-related behaviors (e.g., carrying a firearm) were more prevalent among students who reported fighting during the past 30 days. These findings held for both males and females. A study with a Texas sample (using the YRBS), Orpinas, Basen-Engquist, Grunbaum, and Parcel (1995) found an association between violence and suicidal behaviors. The most violent students, those who were involved in physical fights and carried a weapon, were at increased risk for drug use, promiscuous sexual behavior, suicidal behavior, poor self-esteem, and poor academic achievement.

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