Attempted suicide among young adults: progress toward a meaningful estimate of prevalence

Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Jan;149(1):41-4. doi: 10.1176/ajp.149.1.41.


Objective: The results of epidemiologic surveys on attempted suicide are often difficult to interpret; they compare and provide varying estimates of the prevalence of attempted suicide. The authors sought to estimate the prevalence of attempted suicide in a young adult population and to define more precisely what respondents mean when they report a suicide attempt.

Method: Survey respondents were a representative sample of all 18-24-year-old freshman students at a major public university. The self-administered, anonymous survey included questions about suicidal thoughts and behaviors and about any injury and need for medical care resulting from reported attempts.

Results: Of the 694 respondents, 374 (54%) reported having ever considered suicide and 181 (26%) had considered suicide during the preceding 12 months. Thirteen (2%) students reported having attempted suicide during the preceding 12 months, and 72 (10%) reported ever having attempted suicide. The number of students answering affirmatively to questions about injuries sustained, medical care sought, and hospitalization as a result of attempted suicide decreased progressively: only 18 (3%) students reported having ever sought medical care due to a suicide attempt, and seven (1%) were ever hospitalized.

Conclusions: The prevalence of self-reported attempted suicide is not representative of the prevalence of self-injury and provides little information concerning the seriousness of the attempt. The use of specific questions similar to those used in this study should be considered in future surveys.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Students / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires