Rates of suicide attempts are lower in high schools where students have better connections to their peers and stronger relationships with adult staff, according to a new study.
The study surveyed 10,291 students from 38 high schools to determine social integration through the relationship network structure of each school.
Researchers asked students to name up to seven of their closest friends at their school. In a novel approach, they also asked students to name up to seven adults in their school they trust and feel comfortable talking to about personal matters.
Researchers used the friendship and adult nominations participants submitted to build comprehensive social networks for each school. Researchers used this data to determine whether differences in social networks between schools resulted in different rates of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation (thinking about or planning suicide).
STRONG BONDS AND SUICIDE ATTEMPTS
The findings reveal the following:
- Rates of suicide attempts and ideation were higher in schools where students named fewer friends, friendship nominations were concentrated in fewer students, and students’ friends were less often friends with each other.
- Suicide attempts specifically were higher in schools where students were more isolated from adults, and student nominations of adults were concentrated among fewer students (i.e. a few students had disproportionately more trusted adults vs. other students).
- Schools in which 10% more students were isolated from adults correlated to a 20% increase in suicide attempts.
- Conversely, suicide attempts were lower in schools where students and their close friends shared strong bonds with the same adult, and where a larger share of students nominated a smaller number of adults.
THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE IS AVAILABLE AT 1-800-273-8255.
Schools in which many students name the same trusted adults “may reflect the presence of clearly identified, competent adults being connected to many students,” the authors write.
This focus on social networks had been relatively unexplored in previous research on suicide, according to lead author Peter A. Wyman, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“Most suicide prevention is centered on the high-risk individual,” Wyman says. “We wanted this study to provide us with new ways of thinking on how to intervene to strengthen protective relationships on a broader school-level, and even on a community level.”
A GROWING ISSUE
The number of children and teens who have been brought to the emergency room for suicide attempts or suicidal ideation has nearly doubled in recent years, according to a recent study. There were 1.12 million emergency room visits for suicide attempts or suicidal ideation by children ages 5 to 18 years old in 2015, up from 580,000 in 2007.
In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in the US age 10 to 18 and rates have been increasing by nearly 2% per year.
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