August 28, 2001

Adolescents Who Engage in Delinquent Behaviors More Likely to Contemplate Suicide, According to New Study

Lack of community belonging and parental involvement are factors in delinquency and the resulting suicidal contemplation

SAN FRANCISCO - About 21 percent of adolescents surveyed in middle school in Oakland, California reported being depressed enough to consider suicide. The majority of these youths also used drugs and engaged in illegal activities. Over half were female, according to this study on how demographics and relationships affect the likelihood of delinquency, depression and suicide contemplation. These findings will be reported on at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 109th Annual Convention in San Francisco, CA.

Psychologist Charles G. Go, Ph.D., and Paula Cupertino, Ph.D., who worked on Our Kids Project which is a collaborative effort to meet the needs of every child in Alameda County, surveyed three middle schools in Oakland, California on their feelings toward community, parental involvement and peer support. Students' self-esteem, delinquency, depression and suicidal behaviors were also assessed.

Twenty-one percent or 256 out of 1,232 students surveyed reported contemplating suicide. Those that contemplated suicide also reported the most delinquency. They used either cigarettes, marijuana or ecstacy more than their peers that didn't contemplate suicide. They also were either selling drugs, using weapons and had been arrested at higher rates than their peers not reporting suicidal thoughts.

Those that attempted suicide also reported the least amount of connection to their community. They also reported less monitoring by their parents. Suicidal behaviors were measured by whether or not a youth had attempted suicide, the number of suicide attempts and the number of attempts that needed medical intervention.

The majority of the youths surveyed were under 15 years of age. Thirty-four percent were 14 years old, 33 percent were 13 years old and 23 percent were 12 years old. Fifty-seven percent were female and 43 percent were male. Thirty-five percent were African-Americans, 31 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 16 percent were mixed and 13 percent were Asian. Students in grades sixth through eighth participated in the survey; 39 percent were in eighth grade, 31 percent were in seventh grade and 30 percent were in sixth grade. Most of these youth's self-reported academic performance was in B's (39%), C's (35%) and A's (18%).

Higher feelings of community belonging and parental monitoring do play an important role in protecting against delinquency and suicidal contemplation, said the authors. Independent of school settings, "we found that community belonging predicted how involved parents were with their kids which predicted how much a child exhibited delinquent behaviors and the resulting suicidal ideation. The level of delinquency was the biggest predictor of suicidal thoughts in this sample."

Presentation: "Cultural Context of Adolescent Well-Being: Our Kids Project: Oakland Youth Survey," Charles G. Go, Ph.D., and Paula Cupertino, Ph.D., University of California Cooperative Extension - Alameda; Session 5087, 12:00 - 12:50 PM, August 28, 2001, San Francisco Hilton and Towers, Continental Parlor 8

Full Text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office

Charles G. Go, Ph.D., can be reached at 510-639-1273

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.