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Victimisation raises teens’ thoughts of suicide

Children victimised in multiple situations are most at risk

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Adolescents who have recently been victimised are at increased risk of suicidal ideation – and the risk is particularly high in those subjected to several separate types of victimisation, research shows. Authors of the study, published online first by Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, say those treating abused and bullied children and teens should be aware of their heightened risk, and that all young people thought to be at risk of suicide should be assessed for a history of victimisation.

US researchers examined data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, which involved 1186 people aged 10-17 years. They found that adolescents who had been victimised by their peers in the past year had nearly 2.4 times the risk of suicidal ideation as those who had not. Suicidal ideation was about 3.4 times more common in those who had been sexually assaulted than among those who hadn’t been; and the risk was nearly 4.4 times higher in young people who had been maltreated.

The highest-risk group were those who had experienced ‘polyvictimisation’, defined as seven or more individual types of victimisation in the past year – they were almost six times more likely to report suicidal ideation than children who had not been victimised.

Overall, suicide causes 11% of all deaths of 12-19 year olds in the US; it is the third most common cause of death in this age group. The study authors say their research underlines the importance of including comprehensive assessment of victimisation in adolescent suicide prevention and intervention efforts, looking especially for children who are victims of multiple types of abuse.

They add that those treating victims of sexual assault, peer victimisation and child maltreatment should also be aware of their increased risk of suicidal ideation.

They conclude: “Although much research in this area has focused on neurological risks and psychopharmacologic interventions, these findings point to the importance of the environment and the value of victimisation prevention in reducing suicidal behaviour.

“A comprehensive approach to suicide prevention needs to address the safety of youth in their homes, schools and neighbourhoods.”

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