Do schools differ in suicide risk? The influence of school and neighbourhood on attempted suicide, suicidal ideation and self-harm among secondary school pupils

BMC Public Health. 2011 Nov 17:11:874. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-874.


Background: Rates of suicide and poor mental health are high in environments (neighbourhoods and institutions) where individuals have only weak social ties, feel socially disconnected and experience anomie - a mismatch between individual and community norms and values. Young people spend much of their time within the school environment, but the influence of school context (school connectedness, ethos and contextual factors such as school size or denomination) on suicide-risk is understudied. Our aim is to explore if school context is associated with rates of attempted suicide and suicide-risk at age 15 and self-harm at age 19, adjusting for confounders.

Methods: A longitudinal school-based survey of 1698 young people surveyed when aged 11, (primary school), 15 (secondary school) and in early adulthood (age 19). Participants provided data about attempted suicide and suicide-risk at age 15 and deliberate self-harm at 19. In addition, data were collected about mental health at age 11, social background (gender, religion, etc.), and at age 15, perception of local area (e.g. neighbourhood cohesion, safety/civility and facilities), school connectedness (school engagement, involvement, etc.) and school context (size, denomination, etc.). A dummy variable was created indicating a religious 'mismatch', where pupils held a different faith from their school denomination. Data were analysed using multilevel logistic regression.

Results: After adjustment for confounders, pupils attempted suicide, suicide-risk and self-harm were all more likely among pupils with low school engagement (15-18% increase in odds for each SD change in engagement). While holding Catholic religious beliefs was protective, attending a Catholic school was a risk factor for suicidal behaviours. This pattern was explained by religious 'mismatch': pupils of a different religion from their school were approximately 2-4 times more likely to attempt suicide, be a suicide-risk or self-harm.

Conclusions: With several caveats, we found support for the importance of school context for suicidality and self-harm. School policies promoting school connectedness are uncontroversial. Devising a policy to reduce risks to pupils holding a different faith from that of their school may be more problematic.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools / classification*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / etiology*
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Young Adult