Objective: This case-control study attempts to evaluate the psychological impact of witnessing a suicide on high school students.
Method: Twenty-eight high school students witnessed a firearms suicide and the serious injury of another student while riding a school bus. They were assessed 2 months after the event, and their responses were compared with 28 demographically similar adolescents from another community who had not been exposed to suicide.
Results: The exposed students, when compared with the controls, had higher rates of new-onset anxiety disorder and a trend for increased rates of new-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Within the exposed group, measures of the closeness of the relationship to both the suicide victim and the student who was injured were correlated with the severity of PTSD symptomatology. Within the exposed group, other factors that predisposed to new-onset disorder included family history of affective illness, family history of suicide attempt, and stressful life events occurring in the year before exposure.
Conclusions: In combination with the extant literature, this study demonstrates that adolescents who witness a traumatic suicidal death are at risk for the development of psychopathology, specifically, anxiety disorders and PTSD.