In 1997, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds in the United States, with the greatest increases in suicide rates in the previous decade experienced by black and other minority youth. The purpose of this study was to identify risk and protective factors for suicide attempts among black, Hispanic, and white male and female adolescents.
We used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, conducted in 1995 and 1996. A nationally representative sample of 13 110 students in grades 7 through 12 completed 2 in-home interviews, an average of 11 months apart. We examined Time 1 factors at the individual, family, and community level that predicted or protected against Time 2 suicide attempts.
Perceived parent and family connectedness was protective against suicide attempts for black, Hispanic, and white girls and boys, with odds ratios ranging from 0.06 to 0.32. For girls, emotional well-being was also protective for all of the racial/ethnic groups studied, while a high grade point average was an additional protective factor for all of the boys. Cross-cutting risk factors included previous suicide attempt, violence victimization, violence perpetration, alcohol use, marijuana use, and school problems. Additionally, somatic symptoms, friend suicide attempt or completion, other illicit drug use, and a history of mental health treatment predicted suicide attempts among black, Hispanic, and white females. Weapon-carrying at school and same-sex romantic attraction were predictive for all groups of boys. Calculating the estimated probabilities of attempting suicide for adolescents with increasing numbers of risk and protective factors revealed that the presence of 3 protective factors reduced the risk of a suicide attempt by 70% to 85% for each of the gender and racial/ethnic groups, including those with and without identified risk factors.
In these national samples of black, Hispanic, and white youth, unique and cross-cutting factors derived from a resiliency framework predicted or protected against attempting suicide. In addition to risk reduction, promotion of protective factors may offer an effective approach to primary as well as secondary prevention of adolescent suicidal behavior.