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Study: One in 25 U.S. Teens Have Attempted Suicide

Update Date: Jan 10, 2013 12:03 PM EST
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About one in 25 U.S. teenagers have attempted suicide, and one in eight have thought about it, according to a national study based on interviews with thousands of teens, according to new research.

Teens with certain distress, disruptive behavior, and substance abuse disorders were more likely to have a suicide plan, or to attempt planned or unplanned suicide, than they were to experience suicidal ideation, they wrote online in JAMA Psychiatry.

"What adults say is, the highest risk time for first starting to think about suicide is in adolescence," said Matthew Nock, a psychologist who worked on the study at Harvard University.

The results are based on in-person interviews of close to 6,500 teens in the United States and questionnaires filled out by their parents. Along with asking youth about their suicidal thinking, plans and attempts, interviewers also determined which teens fit the bill for a range of mental disorders.

Just over 12 percent of the youth had thought about suicide. Four percent had made a suicide plan and four percent had attempted suicide.

"What adults say is, the highest risk time for first starting to think about suicide is in adolescence," said Matthew Nock, a psychologist who worked on the study at Harvard University.

Nock and his colleagues found that almost all teens who thought about or attempted suicide had a mental disorder, including depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or problems with drug or alcohol abuse.

More than half of the youth were already in treatment when they reported suicidal behavior, which Nock said was both encouraging and disturbing.

"We know that a lot of the kids who are at risk and thinking about suicide are getting (treatment)," he told Reuters Health. However, "We don't know how to stop them - we don't have any evidence-based treatments for suicidal behavior."

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between age 10 and 24.  Suicide kills about 4,600 youths annually.  Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, a finding that was supported by Nock's study.  However, boys have a higher rate of death because they choose deadlier methods, such as guns, than girls do.

Although girls are more likely to attempt suicide - a patter confirmed by Nock's study - boys have higher rates of death by suicide because they typically choose more deadly methods, such as guns.

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