High school youth and suicide risk: exploring protection afforded through physical activity and sport participation

J Sch Health. 2008 Oct;78(10):545-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00342.x.


Background: Suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death for adolescents. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the adolescent suicide rate increased 18% between 2003 and 2004. Sport may represent a promising protective factor against adolescent suicide. This study examined the relative risk of hopelessness and suicidality associated with physical activity and sport participation.

Methods: Data from the CDC's 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey were analyzed. Logistic regression modeling was used to compare the odds of hopelessness and suicidality in students who engaged in various levels of physical activity to inactive students. Similar analyses were performed comparing risks of athletes to nonathletes, and the risks of highly involved athletes to nonathletes.

Results: Findings showed that frequent, vigorous activity reduced the risk of hopelessness and suicidality among male adolescents. However, low levels of activity actually increased the risk of feeling hopeless among young females. Yet, for both males and females, sport participation protected against hopelessness and suicidality.

Conclusion: These findings indicate that involvement in sport confers unique psychosocial benefits that protect adolescents against suicidality. Findings suggest that mechanisms other than physical activity contribute to the protective association between sport and reduced suicidality. Social support and integration may account for some of the differences found in suicidality between athletes and nonathletes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Suicide / psychology
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • United States / epidemiology