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Suicide Attempts and Stressful Life Events

NCJ Number
Prevention Researcher Volume: 3 Issue: 3 Dated: (Fall 1996) Pages: 5-8
D Adams; J Overholser; A Spirito
Date Published
4 pages
Stressful life events often occur before a person attempts or commits suicide, and individuals who have attempted suicide report experiencing more stressful events than depressed persons and persons in the general population.
Stressful events suicide attempters report are often outside the person's control. As a result, stressful events that precede suicidal acts cannot be dismissed as merely life difficulties resulting from problems such as depression. Certain stressors play an especially powerful role in suicide. For example, exit events such as death, divorce, and separation involving an interpersonal loss have been strongly linked to risk for suicidal behavior. Other major negative events such as loss of a job are also frequently reported as preceding a suicide attempt. Stressful life events do not need to be major life-changing events, however, in order to contribute to suicide risk. In particular, attempted and completed suicides have become an increasingly serious problem among adolescents. Studies that have followed adolescents over time show that chronic stressors may have a greater impact on adolescent mental health than major life-changing events. One research study was conducted to examine the relationship between various stressors and adolescent suicide attempts. The study involved 91 suicidal adolescents admitted to the psychiatric unit of an urban medical center and a comparison group of 155 nonsuicidal community adolescents. Suicide attempters reported significantly more stressors during the previous year than control adolescents. In addition, suicidal attempters reported more stressors in the categories of parent stress and friend stress than control adolescents. The frequency of stressful events reported in the categories of school stress, dating stress, and family stress did not differ between suicidal and nonsuicidal adolescents. Girls reported more stressors than boys, and the total number of stressful events experienced by girls related to depression and suicidal ideation. Study results confirmed that increased stress was more common among adolescent suicide attempters than nonsuicidal adolescents. Implications of the findings for suicide prevention and intervention are discussed.