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Early Psychiatric Issues May Predict Suicide in Boys

Study finds a 'pathway of persistence' throughout life

MONDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- Boys who suffer mental health problems may be at increased risk for suicide when they're teens or young adults, Finnish researchers say.

Their study included 5,302 people who were born in 1981 and followed until 2005. Between ages 8 and 24, 40 participants died (24 males, 16 females). Of those, 13 males and two females died from suicide. Overall, 54 males and females either completed suicide or made a suicide attempt serious enough to result in hospitalization.

Of the 27 males who committed suicide or made a serious suicide attempt, 78 percent had screened positive for psychiatric conditions at age 8, compared with 11 percent of the 27 females who committed suicide or made a serious attempt, said the researchers, who were from Turku University Hospital.

The study also found that teen and young adult males who either seriously attempted or committed suicide were more likely at age 8 to have lived in a family that did not include two biological parents, to have had psychological problems reported by a teacher, or to have had conduct, hyperactive or emotional problems. None of those factors predicted later suicide risk in females. Depression at age 8 was not associated with increased suicide risk later in life for either sex.

The study appears in the April issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"The main finding of our study is that severe suicidality in adolescence and early adulthood has different childhood trajectories among males and females," the researchers wrote. "The present study shows that among males severe suicidality [i.e., completed suicide or serious, life-threatening attempts] shows a pathway of persistence throughout the life cycle, starting in early childhood. Four out of five of these males showed a high level of psychiatric symptoms at the age of 8 years."

The findings have "considerable public health significance," the authors wrote.

"The development of measures to effectively screen, detect and treat childhood disorders is a key issue in the effort to prevent suicide among males," they said. "This focus is particularly important among males with severe conduct problems because, during adolescence, they usually do not seek mental health services. Further studies are warranted to examine the efficacy of such preventive measures in childhood in the reduction of suicide rates among males."

More information

Mental Health America has more about young people and suicide.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, April 6, 2009

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