Suicidal behavior in the family and adolescent risk behavior

Julie Cerel, Timothy A. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence and sociodemographic characteristics of adolescents exposed to suicide attempts and suicide deaths by a family member and to evaluate the separate associations between exposure to a family member's suicide attempts or suicide death and risk behaviors, social-emotional functioning, and family connectedness. Method: We performed a cross-sectional analysis of data collected in 1995 for wave I of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (n = 5,918). The independent variable was the exposure to suicidal behavior by a family member during the past 12 months (death by suicide, suicide attempt, and no suicidal behavior). The dependent variables were substance use, suicidal behavior, violent behavior, perceived shortened life expectancy, emotional distress, and parental and adolescent reports of family connectedness. Results: In the year before the survey, 3.9% of adolescents experienced a family member's suicide attempt whereas 1.2% experienced a family member's death by suicide. In regression analyses adjusting for sociodemographic variables, adolescents who had experienced the suicide attempt of a family member were more likely than those with no exposure to report the following: cigarette and marijuana use, alcohol misuse, suicidal ideation and attempts, fighting and inflicting injuries, decreased life-expectancy, emotional distress, and decreased adolescent reports of parent-child and family connectedness. Adolescents who had experienced a family member's death by suicide were more likely to report marijuana use and alcohol misuse, suicidal ideation and attempts, inflicting severe injuries, and emotional distress. Conclusions: Adolescents who have experienced suicide attempts or suicide deaths in the family show high levels of at-risk behaviors, most notably their own suicidal ideation and attempts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)352.e8-352.e14
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • Adolescent
  • Family
  • Risk-behavior
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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