In a new study, researchers at the University of Bristol in England identified potential factors that could lead to suicide attempts in high-risk young people: non-suicidal self-harm, cannabis and other illicit drug use, exposure to self-harm in friends or family, and having a personality type that is more open to new ideas and experiences, known as “intellect/openness.”
“Most young people who think about suicide will not make an attempt on their life,” said Dr. Becky Mars, a research fellow at the university. “To help us identify which teenagers are most at risk, it’s crucial that we know more about how we can predict thoughts into actions.”
Published in The Lancet Psychiatry, researchers examined questionnaire data from 16- and 21-year-olds who are part of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study, concentrating on those who’d thought about suicide.
From the sample of 310 16-year-olds who had suicidal thoughts, researchers wanted to know what proportion would make an attempt on their own life and if those at greatest risk could be identified. The researchers say they hope their findings will help professionals who work with teenagers assess those at high risk.
The researchers discovered that 12 percent of teens with suicidal thoughts went on to make a suicide attempt during the five-year follow-up.
The researchers also looked at factors that predict attempts among teens who reported non-suicidal self-harm at 16 years old and found that the best predictors in this group were cannabis and drug use, sleep problems, and a less extroverted personality type.
According to the researchers, teens who experienced both suicidal thoughts and non-suicidal self-harm at 16 were a particularly high-risk group, with one in five attempting suicide over the follow-up.
“Although other studies have found differences between young people who have thought about suicide and those who have made an attempt, this is the first study to look at predictors over time,” Mars said. “Findings from our study could be used to help those who work with young people identify those in greatest need of timely help, support, and interventions.”
Mars noted that the researchers are planning studies to look at predictors during shorter time frames, including hours, days, and weeks. They also will look at other predictors that were are not covered in the current study.
“This is important as many well-established risk factors for suicide, such as mental health problems, do not predict suicide attempts in these high-risk groups,” she said.
“While suicidal thoughts and self-harm are common in young people, with around one in six young people reporting self-harm, suicide and suicide attempts are thankfully relatively rare. Being better able to identify those at greatest risk and intervening may help reduce suicides in young people,” added Dr. David Gunnell, a co-author on the study and a professor of epidemiology at the university.
Source: University of Bristol