Coping Skills and Trusted Adults as Protective Factors

September 12, 2013

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

A recent study revealed that the “capacity to identify, manage, and recover from painful emotions,” as well as relationships with trusted adults, help protect adolescents from suicide attempts even in the face of risk factors such as depression. The authors suggested that it might be fruitful to develop and evaluate interventions that promote parent-child communication and the ability of youth to cope with the emotional consequences of events such as the breakup of a relationship or conflicts with family members and peers.

They also suggested that these strategies represent an important new direction for suicide prevention, as many “current suicide prevention strategies that rely on identifying youth who are already suicidal or are in high risk groups and referring them for treatment are unlikely to be sufficient for lowering suicide rates in the population due to minimal help seeking behaviors by adolescents and lack of accessible mental health services.”

This research found that “emotion regulation difficulties and a lack of trusted adults at home and school were associated with increased risk for making a past-year suicide attempt, above and beyond the effects of depressive symptoms and demographic factors.” Although positive relationships with parents had the most association with fewer suicide attempts, relationships with “caring and trustworthy adults at school also significantly reduced the likelihood of a suicide attempt.” Relationships with adults in the community did not result in similar protection against suicide attempts. A relationship with a trusted adult in the family seemed to help compensate for a youth’s inability to cope with emotions. Young people with less ability to regulate emotions but who had a trusting relationship with an adult in their family were less likely to attempt suicide than young people with less ability to regulate emotions and no such trusting relationship.

The data used in this study came from a survey of nearly 8,000 high school students from schools in mostly low-income rural communities. Among the students, 8.6 percent made a suicide attempt in the 12 months before the survey. About half of those who made a suicide attempt reporting making more than one attempt during this period.

This summary is based on information in: Pisani, A, Wyman, P, Petrova, M, Schmeelk-Cone, K, Goldston, D, Xia, Y., & Gould, S. (2013). Emotion regulation difficulties, youth-adult relationships, and suicide attempts among high school students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(6), 807-20.

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