May 20, 2013
1 min read

Hopelessness significantly increased risk for suicidality in youth

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SAN FRANCISCO — Feelings of hopelessness strongly predicted suicidality in children and adolescents, according to new study data presented here.

“The motivation for the study is pretty obvious — in 2010 the incidence of suicide among children aged 5 to 14 ranked as the fourth leading cause of death in that group,” Stephen B. Woolley, DSc, MPH, senior scientist at the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, said during his presentation. “Among adolescents and young adults, it was the third leading cause of death.”

Woolley and colleagues studied numerous factors related to suicidality in 656 child and adolescent inpatients aged 5 to 17 years who were treated at the Institute of Living between 2000 and 2012. The researchers relied on parent reports, which were mailed 1 month after discharge. The primary outcome in the study was suicidal feelings or behaviors.

Approximately one-fifth (19.7%) of the youth had issues related to suicidality, and 49.8% had issues with hopelessness. Woolley said 34.5% of the population had major depressive disorder. Nearly two-thirds (63.7%) of the youth were treated with an antidepressant, and 51.2% were treated with an antipsychotic.

Further analyses indicated that hopelessness was associated with a 23-fold increased risk for suicidality (OR=23.23; 95% CI, 11.11-48.55) vs. a 61% increased risk associated with major depressive disorder (OR=1.61; 95% CI, 1.09-2.39). After adjusting for potential confounders, the researchers found that the risk for suicidality associated with hopelessness was attenuated but still substantial, whereas the risk associated with major depressive disorder was no longer significant.

There were a number of other variables that increased risk for suicidality, including difficulty with sexual activity and lack of self-confidence.

Woolley said the results raise certain questions regarding the degree to which factors such as hopelessness predict suicidal feelings and behavior in children and adolescents.

“Do parents and guardians react to their child’s suicidality by seeing difficulties across all aspects of the child’s life, or do children and adolescents who are suicidal experience a diffusion of difficulties throughout their life?” he asked.

For more information:

Woolley SB. #SCR09-2. Presented at: American Psychiatric Association 166th Annual Meeting; May 18-22, 2013; San Francisco.

Disclosure: Woolley reports no relevant financial disclosures.