Psychopathology associated with suicidal ideation and attempts among children and adolescents

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1998 Sep;37(9):915-23. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199809000-00011.


Objective: To identify the independent and differential diagnostic and symptom correlates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts and determine whether there are gender- and age-specific diagnostic profiles.

Method: The relationships between suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and psychiatric disorders were examined among 1,285 randomly selected children and adolescents, aged 9 to 17 years, of whom 42 had attempted suicide and 67 had expressed suicidal ideation only. Youths and their parents were interviewed as part of the Methods for the Epidemiology of Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders (MECA) Study, using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children Version 2.3 (DISC-2.3).

Results: Logistic regression analyses indicated that mood, anxiety, and substance abuse/dependence disorders independently increased the risk of suicide attempts, after controlling for sociodemographic characteristics. There was no significant independent contribution of disruptive disorders to suicide attempts, although its association with suicidal ideation was significant. Substance abuse/dependence independently differentiated suicide attempters from ideators. Noncriterion symptoms that remained significant predictors of suicide risk, after adjusting for psychiatric disorder, included panic attacks and aggressiveness. Perfectionism did not significantly increase suicide risk after adjusting for psychiatric disorder. The association of specific disorders and noncriterion symptoms with suicidality varied as a function of gender and age.

Conclusion: A monolithic diagnostic risk profile for suicidality, ignoring gender- and age-specific risks, is inadequate. The contribution of substance abuse/dependence in the escalation from suicidal thoughts to suicide attempts is underscored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications*
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Sampling Studies
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Thinking*
  • United States