Toward the prediction of suicidal behavior: Psychosocial characteristics of adolescent suicide attempters

Barbara Kellogg Herndon, Fordham University


The rate of adolescent suicide more than doubled between 1960 and 1988, and in order to assist prevention, identification of those at risk is essential. Adolescent suicide has generated considerable research and because of the complexity of both adolescence and suicide, numerous contributing characteristics have been identified. Infrequent attention, however, has been focused on suicidal adolescents' emotions and interpersonal relationships; for example, there is little empirical evidence concerning the relationship between suicide and anger or perceived social support from friends and family. Moreover, the preponderance of suicidal subjects have been white, middle class, inpatients when many adolescents at risk are lower class, not hospitalized, and of mixed ethnicity. Toward this end, the subjects in his study were 74 lower and low middle class, not hospitalized, adolescents of mixed ethnicity. Three groups, outpatients who had made a suicide attempt, outpatients who had not, and high school students, were compared across variables to determine which characteristics differed among the groups. Each subject filled out questionnaires on perceived social support of family and friends, anger, hopelessness, suicide ideation, and social desirability, as well as demographic information including significant loss, previous attempts, and family history of suicide. Relationships among these dimensions were also evaluated to determine which combinations of factors best described suicidal adolescents. The results demonstrated that adolescent suicide attempters from this population are different from other adolescents: they are primarily female and minority, the level of their suicide ideation is greater, they perceive that they are less supported by their significant others, and they are more likely to externalize their anger than some of their peers. Hopelessness and social desirability, however, did not differentiate the groups. In the nonsuicidal adolescents, correlations suggested patterns of interconnectedness among the psychological variables but not in the attempters or for the demographic variables. The results are discussed in relation to developmental and socioeconomic issues. Implications for future research and for treatment are also considered. It is hoped that the results of this study will help to focus research and facilitate the identification and effective treatment of suicidal adolescents.

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Recommended Citation

Herndon, Barbara Kellogg, "Toward the prediction of suicidal behavior: Psychosocial characteristics of adolescent suicide attempters" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9416668.