Survey exposes teens risk of suicide

15 June 2017

A survey of over 8000 New Zealand high school students has found young people exposed to suicide attempts of others are at an increased risk of taking their own lives, and young people living in poverty are at the highest risk.
Overall, almost one in 20 (4.5 percent) of the students reported a suicide attempt in the last 12 months, while 7.9 percent reported repeated non-suicidal self-injury in the previous 12 months.
The findings have been published in a report “Exposure to suicide behaviour and individual risk of self-harm: Findings from a nationally representative New Zealand high school survey”, in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
Lead authors, Dr Song Chan and Associate Professor Simon Denny of the University’s School of Medicine, note that the findings highlight the importance of having strategies in place to reduce suicide - including increased access to psychological interventions and supports - that should ideally be delivered through schools.
The survey of 8500 New Zealand high school students took place from March through November 2012 as part of Youth2000, a study of health and wellbeing on New Zealand secondary school students. Students answered a survey through small hand-held computers. The schools’ senior management were also surveyed about any traumatic events such as suicide the school had experienced.
Overall, 4.5 per cent of students had attempted suicide at least once in the last 12 months. Approximately 70 per cent of these students had made one or two suicide attempts and 30 per cent had made three or more suicide attempts in the previous 12 months.
Students whose families were struggling with poverty were almost three times as likely to report a suicide attempt. A similar pattern was seen among students reporting deliberate self-harm.
Dr Chan notes that while “students who were exposed to the suicide attempts of whanau or friends were four to five times more likely to report their own suicide attempt, suicides within a school did not influence the rates at which individual young people attempted suicide”.
“Low mood, poverty and exposure to suicide attempts of friends and family members are associated with suicide attempts and repeated non-suicidal self-injury in New Zealand high school students. This research highlights the importance of supporting vulnerable adolescents with supports that are easily accessible to them,” Dr Chan says.
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