UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Potential Lethality of Suicide Attempts in Youth Jopling, Ellen; LeMoult, Joelle; Kerns, Connor M.; Nugent, S.; Eslami, Ali


Objective: Rates of suicide in youth have increased over the last 50 years, yet our ability to predict suicidal behaviors has not significantly improved during this time. Examining predictors of suicide attempt lethality can enhance our understanding of suicidality in youth, yet research has focused on actual medical lethality (the actual danger to life resulting from a suicide attempt) rather than potential lethality (the potential for death that is associated with a suicide attempt). Thus, the aim of the present study was twofold: first, we quantified the percentage of youth for whom the severity of suicide attempt was misclassified by considering only actual lethality; second, we tested whether key variables that predict the actual lethality of suicide attempts also predict the potential lethality of suicide attempts in youth. Method: We examined these questions in a sample of children and adolescents admitted to a psychiatric inpatient unit following a suicide attempt. Results: Over 70% of youth who made serious suicide attempts would have been misclassified by assessments relying on only actual lethality. Although several variables relevant to the construct of actual lethality significantly predicted potential lethality (e.g., male sex, substance use disorder), others did not. In addition, we found that the subset of youth who would have been misclassified as low risk based on actual lethality had a disproportionately high need for healthcare resources due to future hospital admissions. Conclusion: The present study provides evidence to suggest that considering potential lethality may lead to improved detection and prediction of suicide risk in youth, and in doing so supports recent calls to broaden considerations of the lethality associated with suicide attempts.

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