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Centre for Suicide Research | Research | Suicide in young people |


Suicide in young people


Due to increasing rates of suicide in young people, especially males, we have studied a large consecutive sample of 174 suicides by under-25 year olds in four contiguous counties, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire. We used coroners' and medical records to study the whole sample. A psychological autopsy study, which included an interview with informants who knew the deceased (usually parents), was conducted with the most recent cases from the study period (see Hawton et al. 1998 for details of the psychological autopsy approach). This work was funded by the former Oxford Regional Health Authority.

In the study of 174 cases (148 males, 26 females) more individuals were of lower social class and unemployed than in the general population. Hanging and carbon monoxide poisoning were the most frequent methods of suicide, and co-proxamol was the drug most often used in overdoses. Nearly half (44.8%) of the young people had a history of previous self-harm, nearly half of these having carried out multiple episodes and 80% having self-harmed within the previous year. Little support was found for an earlier finding of increasing frequency of general practitioner visits shortly before death. Only 22.4% of individuals were in the care of psychiatric services.

Twenty seven young people (25 males, 2 females) were the subjects of the psychological autopsy study. A sub-sample of 22 male subjects was compared with an age-matched sample of male deliberate self-harm (DSH) patients. Psychiatric disorders were diagnosed in 19 (70.4%) subjects. These were most commonly depressive disorders (55.5%). Very few individuals were receiving treatment for their disorders. Substance abuse disorders were uncommon but a substantial proportion of individuals had problems with alcohol or drug misuse. Personality disorders were present in 29.6% of subjects, and personality disorder and/or personality trait accentuation in 55.6%. Comorbidity of psychiatric disorders was found in a third of subjects. The suicides were often the end-point of long-term difficulties extending back to childhood or early adolescence. In addition to mental disorders, relationship and legal difficulties were identified as relatively common contributory factors to the suicides. In comparison to deliberate self-harm patients, male suicides were more likely to use dangerous methods and live alone.

The process leading to suicide in young people is often long term, with untreated depression in the context of personality and /or relationship difficulties being a common picture at the time of death. The prevention of suicide in the young clearly needs multiple strategies.


Publications include:

Fortune, S., Stewart, A., Yadav, V., Hawton, K. Suicide in adolescents: using life charts to understand the suicidal process. (2007) Journal of Affective Disorders, 100, 199-210.

Hawton, K., Appleby, L., Platt, S., Foster, T., Cooper, J., Malmberg, A., Simkin, S. (1998) The psychological autopsy approach to studying suicide: a review of methodological issues. Journal of Affective Disorders, 50, 269-276.

Houston, K., Hawton, K., Shepperd, R. (2001) Suicide in young people aged 15-24: a psychological autopsy study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 63, 159-170

Hawton, K., Houston, K., Shepperd, R. (1999) Suicide in young people: a study of 174 cases, aged under 25 years, based on coroners' and medical records. British Journal of Psychiatry, 175, 271-276


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