About one in five adolescents has thought about suicide, about 10% have experienced serious suicidal ideation, and 7% have attempted suicide by age 20 years, according to a longitudinal study of Canadian adolescents published online in.
In multivariable analyses, depression and anxiety were independently associated with passive and serious suicidal ideation at some ages, but none of the externalizing problems were significantly associated with passive or serious suicidal ideation. However, “both depressive and conduct symptoms [were] independently associated with suicidal risk,” the researchers found. Most adolescents with suicidal ideation or suicide attempt met criteria for at least one mental health problem.
“These findings suggest that suicide risk should be systematically assessed in adolescents who present with mental health symptoms and not solely in adolescents with clinically diagnosed mental disorders,” said, and colleagues. Dr. Orri is affiliated with the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Montreal, and the University of Bordeaux (France).
To document the prevalence of passive or serious suicidal ideation and suicide attempt from ages 13-20 years and examine correlations with mental health symptoms, Dr. Orri and colleagues analyzed data from 1,618 participants in the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. The population-based study follows individuals born in 1997 and 1998 in Quebec. Participants answered questions about suicidal ideation or suicide attempt in the past year at ages 13, 15, 17, or 20 years (“Did you ever think about suicide?” “Did you ever seriously think of attempting suicide?” and “How many times did you attempt suicide?”). The researchers assessed symptoms of mental health problems using self-report questionnaires.
Lifetime prevalence of suicide-related outcomes was higher for female participants than for male participants. The prevalence of passive suicidal ideation was 28% in females versus 15% in males. The prevalence of serious suicidal ideation was 12% in females versus 8% in males. The prevalence of suicide attempt was 9% in females versus 4% in males. “Sex differences in suicidal ideation and suicide attempt might be attributed to various factors, such as mental health (e.g., higher prevalence of depression in female participants) or social stigma (e.g., greater stigma around suicide in male than in female participants),” the authors wrote.
In the entire cohort, the prevalence of passive suicidal ideation increased from 12% at 13 years to 18% at 17 years. The prevalence of serious suicidal ideation increased from 3% at 13 years to 10% at 20 years. The prevalence of suicide attempt was approximately 4% at each age.
“Although having a major depressive episode is a well-known risk factor of suicidal ideation and suicide attempt, our study adds to the general body of knowledge by showing associations with suicide-related outcomes across the full spectrum of depressive symptoms,” Dr. Orri and colleagues wrote. “This suggests that youth who present with depressive symptoms (and not solely those who are clinically depressed) may be more likely to experience suicidal ideation or attempt suicide.”
The estimated rates of serious suicidal ideation and attempted suicide by age 20 years are consistent with previous U.S. and Canadian surveys. Sample attrition, the use of different questionnaires in early and late adolescence, and the lack of information about substance use and psychotic symptoms are among the study’s limitations.
Six of the authors were supported by grants from a variety of Canadian and European agencies and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. All of the authors said they had no relevant financial disclosures.
SOURCE: Orri M et al. Pediatrics. 2020 Jun 8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2019-3823.