An Investigation of Differences in Attitudes between Suicidal and Nonsuicidal Student Ideators

By Butler, John W., Jr.; Novy, Diane et al. | Adolescence, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

An Investigation of Differences in Attitudes between Suicidal and Nonsuicidal Student Ideators


Butler, John W., Jr., Novy, Diane, Kagan, Norman, Gates, Ginger, Adolescence


Suicidal activity among youths has increased at an alarming rate in recent decades, currently reaching epidemic proportions (Ritter, 1990; White, Murdock, Richardson, Ellis, & Schmidt, 1990;). Brodinsky and Keough (1989) have noted that incidence of suicide is increasing among all age, income, and self-esteem levels of youths. While suicidal incidents in children under age 10 are rare, they are rising among the 10-14 age group, and those among the 15-19 age group are much higher (National Center for Health and Statistics, 1985, cited in Davis, Sandoval, & Wilson, 1988). Rates among preadolescents are increasing, however, with suicide among the 5-14 age group representing the seventh largest cause of death among this population (Milling, Campbell, Davenport, & Carpenter, 1991). Underscoring the problem is the perception that suicide rates are underreported so that parents of these children might be spared the stigma of suicide (Stefanowski-Harding, 1990).

Youth suicides also have profound effects upon others; for every completed suicide, an estimated 7-10 others are affected (Lukas & Seiden, 1987, cited in Hiegel & Hipple, 1990). This fact is particularly relevant within school settings, where increased instances of vulnerability to suicide ideation and clusters of suicides have been reported following suicide events (Brent et al., 1989, cited in Hazell, 1991). Ritter (1990) noted that "given the scope of adolescent suicide, critical attention is warranted."

Researchers have noted the difficulty in finding consistent predictors of youth suicide (Crespi, 1990; Peck, 1987). Age and gender variables have been noted (Allen, 1987; Andrews & Lewinsohn, 1990; Kalafat, 1990; Ritter, 1990; Smith, 1990). Socioeconomic status and geographic region have been cited (Lester, 1991; Wilson, 1991; Zimmerman, 1991). Many psychological/emotional factors have been proposed as contributing to suicidal events, including depression, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and interactions among these variables (Connell & Meyer, 1991; Garrison, Addy, Jackson, McKeown, & Walker, 1991; Hendin, 1991; Lester, 1991). While some researchers have found a relation between mixed disorders and suicidal attempts, others have detected no distinct diagnostic category using the DSM-III system (Borst, Noam, & Bartok, 1991; Reder, Lucey, & Fredman, 1991; Shaffer, Garland, Vieland, Underwood, & Busner, 1991).

Cognitive factors including thinking styles and flexibility of thought have been proposed (Poland, 1989; Spirito, Hart, Overholser, & Halverson, 1990; Stillion & McDowell, 1991). Behavioral manifestations such as disobedience, impulsivity, self-destructive acts, and substance abuse have been cited as suicide determinants (Adcock, Nagy, & Simpson, 1991; Allberg & Chu, 1990; Babow & Rowe, 1990; Borst, Naom, & Bartok, 1991; Herring, 1990; Pfeffer et al., 1991; Rich, Sherman, & Fowler, 1990; Trautman, Rotheram-Borus, Dopkins, & Lewin, 1991).

Interpersonal variables have been proposed to explain suicidal activity as a crisis among relationships (Crespi, 1990; Reder et al., 1991). Included in this domain are family characteristics which contribute to suicidal activity, such as dysfunctional family patterns, poor parent relationships, and poor parent/child communication systems (Crespi, 1990; Myers, McCauley, Calderon, & Treder, 1991; Seibel & Murray, 1987-88; Smith, 1990). A possible scenario for suicidal activity is as follows: parental aspirations for youths are ineffectively transmitted, resulting in youths' failure to meet expectations. The ensuing sense of failure results in low self-esteem, depression, and acting out behaviors (Coder, Nelson & Aylward, 1991; Hendin, 1991; Perrone, 1987).

A second interpersonal domain is seen in adolescent peer group activity. Poor social competence and negative reaction to peer pressure have been cited (Adcock et al. …

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