UNH researchers look at causes of teen suicide
DURHAM — Youth suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents in the United States. Between 1999 and 2006, 11 percent of all deaths among 12- to 19-year-olds were caused by suicide, according to researchers at the University of New Hampshire.
Although many studies focus on independent acts of victimization as causes of suicidal ideation, new research from the university shows recent and multiple victimizations across contexts makes students considerably more likely to think about suicide.
The article titled “Recent Victimization Exposure and Suicidal Ideation in Adolescents” was released on Monday in the journal “Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.”
Lead researcher Heather Turner, professor of sociology and research associate at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center, said the most important aspect of the findings was the particularly powerful effects of being victimized repeatedly.
The study found that students who experienced seven or more different types of victimization in the past month were almost six times more likely to express suicidal ideation.
“There is violence in the homes, in the community and they’re experiencing bullying and assaults at school and this kind of cross-domain victimization has very powerful effects on their psychological well-being and suicide ideation,” Turner said. “I think this kind of pervasive victimization becomes more like a condition of these kids’ lives rather than a set of events.”
She said that level of victimization damages the very resources that might help children be resilient to these types of events, including a sense of social or familial support, self-esteem and self-efficacy.
She suggests a more holistic, child-centered approach to addressing issues of suicidal ideation that takes into account what is happening across a child’s life, from home to school to neighborhoods and more comprehensive victimization assessments.
“We tend to focus on the things that are going on with kids that are sort of within our jurisdiction and area of expertise. So principals and school counselors are interested in and tend to focus on bullying and developing ways to prevent it; people in child protection services are focused on maltreatment and family violence in the home; law enforcement people tend to be focused on how kids might be exposed to conventional crime in their neighborhoods. And while all these things are important, what we’re finding is these are often the same kids that are experiencing all of these things, and it is really this multiple victimization that is having the serious detrimental effects,” Turner said.
Researchers used the National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence to sample 1,186 young people between the ages of 10 and 17 nationwide. The survey was developed at UNH with the goals of estimating children’s exposure to crime, violence and victimization across many domains.
Of the students surveyed, 4.3 percent reported having experienced suicidal ideation within the month preceding the interview.
Additionally, peer-victimized youth had almost 2.4 times the risk of suicidal ideation, while those who had been sexually assaulted in the past year had 3.4 times the risk and those who had been maltreated, including abuse or neglect at home, had almost 4.4 times the risk compared with children who were not exposed to these types of victimization, the researchers found.
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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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