Adolescent suicidal behaviours: a population-based study of risk

Psychol Med. 1997 May;27(3):715-24. doi: 10.1017/s003329179600462x.


Background: Reports of adolescent suicidal behaviour have generally derived from clinical settings but population-based studies are likely to provide a clearer epidemiological view.

Methods: Non-fatal suicidal behaviours were studied in 1699 Australian 15- to 16-year-old secondary school students at 44 schools in the state of Victoria, Australia. Self-reported episodes of self-harm were characterized using items from the Beck Suicide Intent Scale.

Results: The 12 month weighted prevalence estimate for deliberate self-harm was 5.1%. The commonest forms were self-laceration (1.7%), self-poisoning (1.5%) and deliberate recklessness (1.8%). Self-poisoning and self-laceration were commoner in girls. The prevalence of 'true suicide attempts' was 0.2%. Most self-harmers did not perceive death as likely, plan self-harming episodes at length or inform others of the episodes. Psychiatric morbidity had the strongest association with self-harm, an association which held for all subtypes. Antisocial behaviour and substance abuse were associated with self-harm in girls but not boys. Sexual activity was independently associated with self-harm in both genders.

Conclusions: Deliberate self-harm was common but the great majority of episodes were not 'true suicide attempts'. It is, therefore, possible that attributable mortality and morbidity may be greater in self-harmers without definite suicidal intent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cohort Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Motivation
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sampling Studies
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / epidemiology*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Social Behavior Disorders / complications
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Victoria / epidemiology