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.