The prevention of suicide, particularly adolescent suicide, remains one of the biggest challenges in psychiatry.
OBJECTIVES: To ascertain: (i) clinical and demographic characteristics; and (ii) possible associations between these characteristics and suicide attempt frequency in a selected patient group at Weskoppies Hospital over 4 months.
METHODS: Fifty adolescent outpatients aged between 13 and 17 years with a history of one or more suicide attempts were interviewed to obtain demographic and clinical features. Chi-square and Fisher's exact tests assessed associations between these features and suicide attempt frequency.
RESULTS: Of the subjects, 79% were aged between 15 and 17 years; they were predominantly female (62%) and Caucasian (83%). Mainstream and special education schools were equally represented. Three-quarters had reached grades 8 - 10, and 14% lived with both biological parents, 33% in places of safety and 37% with one divorced parent. The minority of caregivers had a history of alcohol abuse and other substance use.
Twenty-nine per cent of the subjects had attempted suicide on more than 10 occasions and 23% had made a single attempt. The most common methods were wounding (74%), tablet overdose (34%) and hanging (20%). Psychiatric diagnoses included major depressive disorder (64%), bipolar disorder (38%), alcohol abuse (18%) and other substance abuse (24%). Familial features included depression, substance abuse, antisocial behaviour and suicide. Familial suicidal behaviour included suicide attempts by parents (85%), siblings (36%), aunts and uncles (31%) and cousins (44%). Physical and sexual abuse was reported in 52% of families.
CONCLUSION: Many findings and profiles of other studies were confirmed and point to school and home environments, family psychopathology and psychiatric diagnoses as factors associated with adolescent suicide attempts. Associations between the frequency of suicide attempts and the demographic and clinical characteristics were statistically inconclusive.