Psychological predictors of suicidal behaviour
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
It is generally accepted that there is a rising suicide rate among young people in most Western Societies, and the literature is reviewed with particular reference to this. New Zealand statistics suggest there is reason to believe this trend has occurred here also. From the point of view of a psychological model there are at least two pertinent questions to ask regarding suicidal behaviour: (a) why is there a sudden rise in first-ever attempts at suicide at adolescence? (b) what psychological variables predispose an individual to engage in suicidal behaviour? One way to approach an answer to the first question is to examine suicidal behaviour across an age range, with reference to several psychological variables. For the present study data was collected from 34 subjects (14 males and 20 females) at Christchurch Public Hospital, who had either attempted to commit suicide, or had threatened to do so, or had presented to a crisis intervention service with prominent suicidal ideation. The following hypotheses were tested across an age range from the 13.0 years to 54.9 years (mean= 27.9; s.d.= 11.17): (i) that peer-related concerns in comparison to family concerns will be amplified for some adolescents' suicidal behaviour compared to other age groups, (ii) that suicide attempters may use different ways of coping in stressful encounters than suicide ideators and/or threateners, and (iii) that suicide attempters will score more highly on a measure of alexithymia than ideators and/ or threateners. Results indicated that, for this sample, family and peer-related concerns varied to a certain extent across age, but that neither were significant predictors of suicidal behaviour in multiple linear regresson analyses. With respect to the second hypothesis planful-problem solving was found to be related to a general measure of suicidal behaviour. Confrontive coping, escape-avoidance and planful-problem solving were found to be related to the more serious forms of suicidal behaviour. Age effects for coping style were not observed for this sample. With respect to the third hypothesis, alexithymia (at least as measured by the Toronto Alexithymia Scale) was found to be unrelated to suicidal behaviour of any type. The second question related to psychological variables which may predispose an individual to engage in suicidal behaviour. The depression, and alexithymia. Three analyses to elucidate causal factors were performed. The first found that depression was related to a general measure of suicidal behaviour, whilst both reasons for living and coping styles contributed to prediction of current suicidal feelings. The second analysis focused on the subscales, or parts of both reasons for living and coping styles. Evidence for the notion that individuals who used planful ways of coping with problems, and who had less fear of social disapproval with respect to suicide were more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour was observed. The third analysis involved a linear multiple regression model constructed from the data available from all the variables measured in the study. This analysis indicated that there were qualitative differences in psychological predictors across varying degrees of severity of suicidal behaviour. It is concluded that individuals who have engaged in the more serious variety of suicidal behaviour, especially serious attempts, used a coping style characterised by planful solving of problems, and confrontive action. Individuals who have engaged in a high frequency of suicidal ideation were characterised by their belief that it is worth not committing suicide because of what others might think of them, especially in terms of being weak and selfish or out of control. It is suggested that this concern over social disapproval is enhanced by our cultural taboo of suicide. With respect to current ideation, individuals were characterised by ownership of both the planful style of solving problems, and the belief that a reason to live is to avoid the disapproval of others. Limitations of the current research are discussed, as are methodological problems of suicide research in general. The small sample available for the study makes necessary the caution regarding the exploratory nature of the results advanced. Directions for future research are discussed, the single most important thread being that more research is both justified and needed.