Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine whether suicidal ideation in a community population of adolescents represents normative adolescent angst or is predictive of psychopathology, suicidal and problem behaviors, and compromised functioning 15 years after onset.
Method: Participants were 346 largely Caucasian individuals who were part of a single-age cohort from a working class community and whose development had been traced prospectively from ages 5 to 30. Those with suicidal ideation at age 15 were compared to those without suicidal ideation at age 15 on measures of psychopathology, suicidal ideation and behavior, problem behaviors, and adult functioning at age 30. Gender differences were assessed across all domains.
Results: At age 30, there were marked differences between adolescents with suicidal ideation and adolescents without suicidal ideation of both genders in most domains examined. Subjects with suicidal ideation were twice as likely to have an axis I disorder, nearly 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide by age 30, and 15 times more likely to have expressed suicidal thoughts in the past 4 years. Subjects with suicidal ideation had more problem behaviors and poorer overall functioning as assessed by multiple informants. Their self-perceptions of coping ability, self-esteem, and interpersonal relations were also lower. Although subjects with suicidal ideation among both genders had higher levels of psychopathology, suicidal ideation and behavior, and problem behaviors at age 30, male subjects with suicidal ideation had lower salaries and socioeconomic status and were less likely to have achieved residential independence.
Conclusions: Findings underscore the importance of considering suicidal ideation in adolescence as a marker of severe distress and a predictor of compromised functioning, indicating the need for early identification and continued intervention.