Public Release: 

Suicidal minority teens lack adult support

Center for Advancing Health

Low-income black and Latino teens who report suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts also say they have few adults in their lives with whom they can discuss personal problems, according to a new study.

Those who attempted suicide were more than twice as likely as non-attempters "to feel that they had no one to count on," say Lydia O'Donnell, Ed.D., and colleagues of the Education Development Center Inc. Their findings appear in the American Journal of Health Behavior.

More than half of the teens who attempted suicide said that they had not spoken with an adult before their attempt.

"Clearly, adults who may be able to help or intervene in potentially life-threatening situations are not necessarily recognizing or responding to the needs of many of the most vulnerable youth," O'Donnell says.

O'Donnell and colleagues analyzed survey data from 879 11th graders from three neighborhoods in Brooklyn, N.Y. Fifteen percent of the students said that they had seriously considered suicide in the past year, 13 percent had made a suicide plan and 11 percent had attempted suicide at least once.

Some teens in the study appeared to be more vulnerable than others, the researchers found. Girls and Latinos were almost twice as likely to report a suicide attempt in the last years, and teens who said they'd had sex with someone of their same gender were two and a half times more likely to think about and attempt suicide.

Students who discussed their problems with adults were more likely to turn to "their informal networks, especially parents and friends, for help than to more formal sources such as psychologists, counselors or teachers," O'Donnell says.

But many of the students who had talked with an adult in the past "were not necessarily comfortable doing so again in the future," she adds, suggesting that further research is necessary to understand the teens' change of heart.

While suicide rates remained stable for most Americans between 1980 and 1995, the rate more than doubled among black youth. Rates remained high but unchanged among Latino adolescents.

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The study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

By Becky Ham, Science Writer
Health Behavior News Service

FOR MORE INFORMATION Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or www.hbns.org.
Interviews: Contact Lydia O'Donnell at 617-969-7100 or lodonnell@edc.org.
American Journal of Health Behavior: Visit www.ajhb.org or e-mail eglover@hsc.wvu.edu.

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