By Christi van Eyken
Teenagers who experience a lack of acceptance or feelings of invalidation from their family and their peers are at a greater risk for suicide attempts and self-harm, according to new research from the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. The results of the study were published in October of 2014 in the online Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.
Invalidation And Suicide/Self-Harm Risk For Teens
Invalidation could include active bullying or abuse from family or peers, or it could involve less direct forms of rejection. For example, a teenager who was gay might feel invalidated by or fearful of coming out to their family if relatives have expressed general disapproval of homosexuality.
Lead author Shirley Yen and her research team conducted a series of six-month follow-ups with 99 teenagers who had been admitted to a psychiatric facility because they had attempted suicide or were believed to be suicide risks. Yen is an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown.
They discovered that a sense of family and peer invalidation, even when no other risk factors are considered, is a strong indicator of suicide risk. In addition to assessing feelings of invalidation, the researchers also kept track of recurring suicide risk or attempts, and of self-harming behavior.
Family And Peer Invalidation Produce Somewhat Different Results
The teenagers were asked whether there were times when they did not feel accepted by their families or their peers, or times when they felt discouraged from expressing their inner thoughts and feelings. The researchers also asked whether the teenagers ever believed that they would be rejected, mocked or even punished if they chose to express their true thoughts and feelings.
The results, after adjustment for other known risk factors, showed that the teenage boys in the study who reported moderate to high feelings of family invalidation were more likely to have a later suicide event. Both boys and girls in the study were more likely to engage in self-harming behavior if they reported feeling invalidated by their peers.
Identifying Those At Greatest Future Risk
Since the participants in this study were all being treated for suicide risks or attempts at the outset, the results do not prove that feelings of invalidation increase the risk of suicide or self-harm in the context of the general population.
However, Yen and her fellow Brown University researchers believe that this information can be useful for identifying exceptionally at-risk individuals among a population that has already been recognized as at-risk.
Suicide And Self-Harm Among Teenagers
Both suicide and self-harm are all-too-common concerns for teenagers, and an increasing number of pre-teens. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. Only homicide and accidents are more common causes of death in this age group.
Self-harm is also a serious problem among teenagers. Studies estimate that between two and three million people in the United States self harm every year, and the majority of are adolescents. The most common self-harming behaviors are cutting and burning.
Suicide And Self-Harm Risk Factors
Growing numbers of teenagers experience one or more suicide or self-harm risk factors, such as:
- anxiety disorders
- substance abuse
This can make it extremely difficult to recognize those teenagers who are at severe risk for suicide attempts or self-harm, and to target those teenagers with intensive treatment and prevention efforts. Distinguishing those teenagers who are at the very highest risk for attempting suicide could help doctors and psychologists save a greater number of young lives.
Learn More About The Signs Of Self-Injury In Young People And What To Do!