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The Unique Role of Stressful Life Events in Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Adolescents

  • Author(s): Deryck, Frank Samuel;
  • Advisor(s): Silver, Roxane C;
  • et al.

Depressive symptomatology is a significant predictor of adolescent suicide, but it may be insufficient to explain what motivates a suicide attempt. By comparison, stressful life events potentially explain aspects of suicide that depressive symptomatology is unable to, but research on this relationship is scarce. Secondary analyses were conducted on data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents (“Add Health,” N = 17,561) to examine the hypothesis that stressful events are a unique predictor of suicide attempts. Results indicated that stressful life events were a significant predictor of overall suicidality (thoughts or attempts), although the association was partially mediated by depressive symptomatology. However, both the accumulation of events and specific experiences of violence and bereavement predicted suicide attempts among adolescents who reported suicidal thoughts. These associations were significant when adjusting for depressive symptomatology, demographics, and other common suicide risk factors such as illicit substance use and exposure to the suicide of a close friend or family member. Findings are consistent with previous studies that discuss the limitations of depressive symptomatology as a predictor of suicide. Stressful life events are prevalent experiences that place adolescents at higher risk for both suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

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