Predictors of College Student Suicidal Ideation: Gender Differences

By Stephenson, Hugh; Pena-Shaff, Judith et al. | College Student Journal, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Predictors of College Student Suicidal Ideation: Gender Differences


Stephenson, Hugh, Pena-Shaff, Judith, Quirk, Priscilla, College Student Journal


There is a need to identify students at risk for suicide. Predictors of suicidality were examined separately for men and women in a college health survey of 630 students. Women reported higher levels of suicidal ideation than men in the previous year. Separate regression analyses for men and women accounted for significant amounts of the variance in suicidal ideation, 25% for men and 26% for women. Both men and women shared frequency of depression and hopelessness in the previous year as predictors of suicidal ideation but gender specific predictors also emerged. Chronic recent alcohol consumption and reports of sexual assault were important predictors of suicidal ideation for women, while reports of having been physically assaulted were uniquely reported as predictors of suicidal ideation for men. Reports of being in a fight were significantly associated with suicidal ideation for the entire sample. Reports of prior suicide attempts were predicted for the whole sample by recent alcohol use and depression in the previous year. Future research should focus on gender specific predictors of college student suicide. Therapist assessments of suicidality should be driven by gender specific risks as well as by shared risk factors such as hopelessness.

Introduction

Suicide and college student suicide in particular, have been the subject of extensive empirical research (Lester, 1994). Suicide rates for college students are about 7.5 per 100, 000 per year but older students and males are at greater risk (Silverman, Meyer, Sloan Raffel, & Pratt, 1997). Suicide prevention programs are an important function of college counseling and health centers. College wide programs for effective suicide screening are in place in many institutions and a current bill (Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, 2004) provides funding specifically to address this need. A better understanding of risk factors and predictors of college student suicide will help direct these resources to the greatest effect.

In general, while the suicide rates of college student populations are lower than those of their non-college peers, many of the predictors of suicide are the same (Silverman et al., 1997). Furr (2001) identified depression, helplessness, and hopelessness as common problems cited by students with suicidal ideation. Loneliness was also identified and may be a problem more particular to student populations. In addition, relationship problems, academic problems, and money problems have been associated with increased suicidality for students (Meilman, Patis, & Krause-Zeilman, 1994). Substance related habits have also been connected with suicidal ideation, and increased drug consumption and alcohol use have been found to increase suicidality as they exacerbate depressive states and increase the likelihood of impulsive behavior (Brener, Barrios, & Hassaan, 1999). Long term cannabis use, for instance, has been associated with increased suicidality (Bovasso, 2001). In youth samples, suicidality has also been associated with a variety of related behavioral risk factors such as weapon carrying and aggressive behaviors (Cogshall, & Kingery, 1999). Suicide has also been associated with victimization in physical and sexual domains (e.g. Kernic, Wood, & Holt, 2000). Counterintuitively, it has also been reported that students who reported initiating assault were more likely to experience higher levels of suicidal ideation than those who did not, or those who were victims of assault (Evans, Marte, Betts, & Silliman, 2001).

Gender differences in suicide have been extensively reported (e.g. Cutright& Fernquist, 2003; Rudmin, Ferrada-Noli, & Skolbekken, 2003). Cleary (2000), for example, reported higher levels of suicidal ideation in adolescent females than males. Though some studies examine suicidal ideation in students as a population, few specifically examine the relative contribution of predictor variables separately for male and female students. …

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