It’s not a happy topic for this time of year, but it is an important one. New research has found that adolescents victimized by peers, sexual assault or maltreatment have an increased risk of suicidal thoughts not long after the incidents occur.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center studied data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, including a survey of 1,186 adolescents, ages 10-17. Among the total sample of victimized adolescents, researchers found that 4.3 percent had suicidal ideation (thoughts of harming or killing oneself) within the past month.
Compared to children not exposed to this kind of victimization, the risk of suicidal ideation increased by

  • 2.4 times for peer-victimized youth;
  • 3.4 times for sexually assaulted youth;
  • 4.4 times for maltreated youth; and
  • nearly six times for adolescents victimized in these ways seven or more times in the past year.

Youth suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents in the United States, accounting for more than 16,000 deaths among ages 12-19 each year, UNH researchers say.

The study findings emphasize the need to fully assess and consider victimization in adolescent suicide prevention efforts. In addition, the researchers say that any treatment of suicidal adolescents who’ve suffered victimization should also consider safety in the home, school and neighborhood.

The study was published in a recent issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.