Family Environmental Factors as Correlates for Adolescent Suicidal Behaviors in the Limpopo Province of South Africa

By Madu, Sylvester N.; Matla, Ma-queen P. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Family Environmental Factors as Correlates for Adolescent Suicidal Behaviors in the Limpopo Province of South Africa

Madu, Sylvester N., Matla, Ma-queen P., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The perceived family environmental factors that could correlate with adolescent suicidal behaviors in the Limpopo Province (South Africa) were investigated. The participants were 435 secondary school adolescents from the Pietersburg area in the Limpopo Province of whom 56% were female, and 44% were male, aged between 15-19 years. A questionnaire was used to determine demographic variables, family environmental factors (Moos & Moss, 1989), and suicidal behaviors. Logistic regression analysis showed that: conflict in a family was a significant correlate for three forms of suicidal behaviors studied; family independence, family cohesion, and family organization were also indicated as significant correlates for suicidal threats, however, family independence and organization correlate negatively with suicidal threat. Mental health workers and educators should consider these findings when planning preventive and therapeutic strategies for the minimization of suicidal behaviors among adolescents in the province.

Keywords: adolescents, suicide, family environment, South Africa.

Adolescent suicidal behaviors have become a major problem in South Africa (Mhlongo & Peltzer, 1999; Peltzer, Cherian, & Cherian, 1998; Pillay, van der Veen, & Wassenaar, 2001; Pillay & Wassenaar, 1997; Wassenaar, van der Veen, & Pillay, 1998). For example, Peltzer et al. reported rates of parasuicide among secondary school pupils in the Limpopo Province (South Africa) as 17% for boys and 13% for girls. Flisher (1999) also indicated that suicide is the third leading cause of death constituting 11.4% and 12.5% respectively of all deaths in the 15-19 year age groups among White and Asian populations. However, the relationship between family environment and suicidal behaviors remains a largely unexplored area of research in this country.


Suicidal behavior, as defined in this study, denotes a wide range of self-destructive or self-damaging acts in which people engage - either predeterminedly or impulsively - with varying degrees of motive, lethal intent and awareness of the outcome and consequences. It includes suicidal thoughts, threats, plans and attempts (Schlebusch, 1990). For the purpose of this study, it excludes completed suicide.


A number of family environmental factors have been identified in many other countries as correlates of adolescent suicidal behaviors. Halford and Markman (1997) hold that marital dissatisfaction and interpersonal conflict are associated with significant, concurrent adjustment problems for children. These problems, in the view of Halford and Markman, may take the form of externalizing problems (e.g., oppositional or conduct problems) or internalising problems (anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, suicidal behavior). Adolescents from families where the spousal subsystem is constantly in conflict have also been found to be engaging in risk taking behaviors (Halford & Markman, 1997; Hetherington, 1989; Windle & Windle, 1997). Investigations among adolescent populations in the USA, and the Indian population in South Africa, show that problems in relationships with parents tend to be the most significant factors precipitating self-destructive behaviors in adolescents (Pillay & Wassenaar, 1997; Wood & Wassenaar, 1989). In the study by Henry, Stephenson, FryerHanson, and Hargett (1993), both suicidal adolescents and their parents reported low levels of satisfaction with family relationships. Based on the above, it was hypothesized in the present study that family conflict among participants would correlate positively with suicidal behaviors.

Pathological levels of cohesion among family members could also be linked to suicidal behaviors among adolescents (Diekstra, 1989). Excessive involvement of families in adolescents' lives as well as their failure to facilitate disengagement was found to be playing a major role in adolescent suicidal behavior (Kerfoot, 1984).

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Family Environmental Factors as Correlates for Adolescent Suicidal Behaviors in the Limpopo Province of South Africa


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