Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens and rates of suicidal behavior are particularly high among girls. Previous research has found that interpersonal stressors — such as conflict with peers, friends, and family — are linked to suicidal behavior. Some theories of suicidal behavior suggest that poor social problem-solving skills may contribute to the connection, possibly because teens with poorer social problem-solving skills are more likely to view suicide as a viable solution to their distress when they feel they have exhausted other people. options.
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The present study aimed to test these associations by considering both experimentally simulated and real-world measures of
suicide risk. The research is published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.
“The findings provide empirical support for cognitive and behavioral theories of suicide that suggest that deficits in the ability to effectively manage and resolve interpersonal problems may be related to suicidal behavior,” said study lead author Olivia Pollak, MA, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Clinically, this is remarkable given that problem-solving features prominently in several treatments for suicidal or self-injurious behavior.”
Participants were 185 girls aged 12 to 17 who had experienced mental health problems in the past two years. At the start of the study, participants completed surveys or interviews about their psychological symptoms and suicidal behavior. Participants also completed a task to assess their social problem-solving skills, which involved responding to scenarios involving interpersonal conflict or challenges with other people, such as peers, friends, family members, and romantic partners. The teens were then asked to perform a task that had been shown in previous studies to cause social stress — they had to prepare and deliver a three-minute speech to what they believed was an audience of peers watching via video link. Immediately after the stressful task, they again completed the social problem-solving task to see if experiencing social stress led to a decline in their problem-solving ability.
The researchers also followed the girls for nine months, checking in every three months, asking them about the stressors they experienced in interpersonal domains, such as with peers, friends and relatives, and about suicidal behavior.
Overall, the researchers found that girls who showed greater declines in problem-solving ability in the lab and who also experienced more interpersonal stress during the nine-month follow-up period were more likely to engage in suicidal behavior over the nine months. month follow-up period.
“Importantly, resolving deficits in need can increase the risk of future suicidality
behavior alone in combination with greater cumulative real-life interpersonal stress,” Pollak said. “The risk of suicidal behavior was greater in adolescents who had a greater decrease in
effectiveness and who experienced high levels of interpersonal stress over a nine-month follow-up, consistent with robust evidence for links between interpersonal life stress and suicidal behavior.
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