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Suicidality, Psychopathology, and Gender in Incarcerated Adolescents in Austria

Belinda Plattner, MD; Steve S. L. The, MD; Helena C. Kraemer, PhD; Ryan P. Williams, BA; Susanne M. Bauer, MD; Jochen Kindler, MD; Martha Feucht, MD; Max H. Friedrich, MD; and Hans Steiner, MD

Published: October 15, 2007

Article Abstract

Objective: Delinquent juveniles are at extreme risk for suicide with death rates 4 times higher than in the general population. Whereas psychopathologic risk factors for suicidal behavior in nonforensic adolescent populations are well defined, psychopathologies associated with suicidality in delinquent juveniles are not yet clear. The objective of this study was to determine gender-specific psychopathologic profiles associated with suicidality in detained juveniles.

Method: The Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument-Second Version, the Youth Self-Report, and the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview for children and adolescents were used to investigate juveniles in an Austrian pretrial detention facility. The study sample consisted of all juveniles entering the system between March 2003 and January 2005. Of the 370 eligible participants, 319 completed the study (53 girls and 266 boys; age range, 14 to 21 years; mean = 16.67, SD = 1.45 years).

Results: We found significantly higher prevalence rates of both current (p < .01) and lifetime (p < .001) suicidality in girls than in boys. Suicidal boys exhibited more psychopathology and a wider range of psychopathology compared to nonsuicidal boys. For suicidal girls, psychopathologies appeared more circumscribed (all relevant p values < .04). Using signal detection methods, major depressive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and social phobia identified boys athighest risk of suicidality, while a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder identified girls at highest risk.

Conclusions: Suicidality levels are high in delinquent adolescents, especially in girls. Psychopathologic risk factors seem to be gender specific in this population. Not only depression, but also psychopathologies that usually do not arouse strong suspicion for an association with suicidal behavior, i.e., social phobia and ADHD in boys and PTSD in girls, might increase suicide risk. Further research in other countries is needed to replicate our results with respect to sociocultural influences.

Volume: 68

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