Suicidal thoughts can start at an early age

Thoughts of suicide can begin earlier in life than previously thought, a new study has found. Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the research showed a considerable number of young people in the US who attempt to take their own lives do so before they reach high school.

Indeed, almost 40 per cent of those questioned admitted they first tried to kill themselves prior to entering this stage of their education.

In addition, it was revealed that suicide attempts carried out in childhood and during teenage years were linked to greater levels of depression at the time when the events occurred.

James Mazza, Professor of Education Psychology at the University of Washington - founded in 1861 - noted those who have chronic mental health problems in later life often show signs of their troubles at an early age.

The investigation signalled "implementation of mental health programs may need to start in elementary and middle schools and that youth in these grades are fairly good reporters of their own mental health", Professor Mazza added.

Reverend Professor Leslie Francis, Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the British Psychological Society, commented: "I have been monitoring levels of suicidal ideation among young people in England and Wales since the late 1970s. I am particularly interested in and concerned about the 13 to 15 year age group. Among this age group a considerable proportion recognise and admit to the fact that they have sometimes entertained suicidal thoughts. This is an emotionally volatile stage of life - and the adult community would be unwise not to take seriously the thoughts that are going on in the heads of young people.

"My most recently completed study on suicidal ideation was published in my book Urban Hope and Spiritual Health. It drew on a survey of 33,000 year-nine and year-ten pupils from across England and Wales.

"The headline figure is that 27 per cent of these young people said that they had sometimes considered taking their own life. Of course, this does not mean that suicidal ideation will be turned into suicidal behaviour. But it does mean that one-in-four young people have thought about it. There are then certain triggers that can transform thought into behaviour.

"My research also shows how the levels of suicidal ideation vary in stable ways among different groups of young people. Suicidal ideation is higher among: girls (31 per cent) than boys (24 per cent); those living in the North of England (28 per cent) than in the South (26 per cent); those with unemployed fathers (31 per cent) than those with employed fathers (26 per cent); those from broken homes (33 per cent) than those with intact homes (25 per cent).

"There is also a significant correlation between religious belief and lower levels of suicidal ideation. I am currently overseeing a project that is replicating the study published in 2005 in order to keep track of the way in which levels of suicidal ideation change over time."