Objectives: To determine the frequency of reported suicidal thoughts and acts in (a) a school-based sample of Irish adolescents, (b) adolescents attending a community child and family mental health service.
Method: The study population consisted of: (a) 195 adolescents aged 13-15 years attending ten secondary schools throughout Ireland. The schools were selected to represent a wide social and cultural spread: and (b) 66 adolescents aged 13-15 years attending a community child mental health service. The measures used were the Child Behaviour Checklist completed by the parents of the adolescents and the Youth Self Report completed by the adolescents.
Results: Within the school sample, the parents of 3% of adolescents reported that their child had talked of harming him/herself, but none reported acts of self-harm. Fifteen percent of the adolescents themselves reported that they had thoughts of harming or killing themselves, and 8% reported that they had tried to harm or kill themselves.
Within the mental health clinic attenders sample, the parents of 33% of the adolescents reported that their child had talked of harming him/herself, and the parents of 27% reported that their child had tried to harm or kill themselves. Twenty-one percent of the adolescents themselves reported that they had thoughts of harming or killing themselves, and 21% percent reported that they had tried to do so. In both groups, adolescents with higher total problem, internalising and externalising scores on the questionnaires, indicating greater disturbance, were more likely to report thoughts and acts of self harm.
Conclusions: Thoughts of suicide and acts of self harm are common in Irish adolescents and are not limited to those attending mental health services. Parents are frequently unaware of these thoughts. Further studies involving interviews with adolescents at risk are indicated to determine the significance of these thoughts and how adolescents deal with them.