Skip to this page's content

Teens' Suicidal Thoughts Not Just Youthful "Angst": They Can Be Dramatic Predictors of Adulthood Mental Health Problems, Simmons College Study Finds

Study has "major implications" for treatment of adolescents with suicidal thoughts

BOSTON (July 13, 2006) — Suicidal thoughts during adolescence can often be dramatic predictors of poor mental health in adulthood, and should not be dismissed as normal teenage angst that disappears over time, according to a major new study in the July American Journal of Psychiatry funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The study, led by Professor Helen Reinherz, Sc.D.,  of the Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston, found that adolescents who entertained thoughts of suicide—whether or not they act upon them—are significantly more likely when they reach adulthood to have severe distress and to function poorly, compared to their peers who didn't have suicidal thoughts as teens.

The study said the findings have "major implications for assessment and treatment" of adolescents who have suicidal thoughts, underscoring the importance of early identification and continued intervention to alleviate immediate stress, and to forestall problems in adulthood.

Reinherz and colleagues followed nearly 400 residents of one New England community from the time they were 15 years old in 1987, until they turned 30 in 2002, recording their and their families' and teachers' observations of their self-image, behavior patterns, anxiety levels, and suicidal thoughts over time.  Researchers compared the mental health at age 30 of those who had expressed suicidal thoughts at age 15, to those who had not had suicidal thoughts at age 15.

These were some key findings at age 30 of those who had suicidal thoughts at age 15, compared to their peers who had not had suicidal thoughts as adolescents:

--They were twice as likely to have a serious mental health disorder.  

--They were 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide by age 30.

--They were 15 times more likely to have expressed suicidal thoughts over the past four years.

--They reported significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.   

--They reported lower levels of self-esteem, more difficulty coping, and poorer interpersonal relations.

--Peers, family, and others viewed them as having more behavioral problems and poorer general functioning.

--They had a lower socioeconomic status—even though they were just as likely to have completed college and made the transition to marriage and parenthood than those who had not had adolescent suicidal thoughts.

Those studied were drawn from participants in the Simmons Longitudinal Study, (www.simmons.edu/ssw/sls) a national mental health study on predictors of good or poor mental health that is one of the nation's longest-running community studies.  The overall longitudinal study began in 1976, following one community's entire kindergarten class of 763 children until adulthood.

For a look at the full suicide study, go to http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/163/7/1226.

In addition to Reinherz, study researchers include Jennifer Tanner, Ph.D., and Sasha Berger of the Simmons School of Social Work; William R. Beardslee, M.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at Children's Hospital in Boston; and Garrett M. Fitzmaurice, Sc.D., of the Harvard Medical School Department of Medicine.

The Simmons School of Social Work (www.simmons.edu/ssw) has a nationally acclaimed clinical social work program and is one of the oldest schools of social work in the nation.
 
Simmons College (www.simmons.edu) is a nationally recognized private university in Boston.  It includes an undergraduate college for women, and graduate programs for women and men in social work, health studies, library and information science, management, and liberal arts.

Sitemap