Suicide contagion among adolescents during acute psychiatric hospitalization

C A King, R Franzese, S Gargan, L McGovern, N Ghaziuddin, M W Naylor
Psychiatric Services: a Journal of the American Psychiatric Association 1995, 46 (9): 915-8

OBJECTIVE: The study investigated whether exposure to other suicidal adolescents led to suicide contagion among patients hospitalized on an acute adolescent psychiatry unit. It also examined whether some adolescents express more suicidality during hospitalization than before admission.

METHODS: Fifty-seven adolescents with a range of diagnoses admitted to a university-based psychiatric inpatient unit were assessed for suicidality at hospital admission and discharge using the Spectrum of Suicide Behavior scale and the Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire-Jr. Suicidal intent or behavior was the primary reason for admission of 58 percent of the patients.

RESULTS: Despite many patients' severe suicide risk at hospital admission, 94 percent expressed no active suicidal intent and engaged in no behavior that could be considered suicidal during hospitalization. Four patients engaged in possibly suicidal, self-cutting behaviors; however, these incidents did not cluster in time. Fourteen patients (26 percent) expressed a significant increase in suicidal ideation during hospitalization, but the increase was not associated with study measures of exposure to other suicidal adolescents.

CONCLUSIONS: Contagion of suicidal behaviors may not be a frequent or significant problem on acute adolescent inpatient units, although the phenomenon of increased suicidal ideation among some inpatients warrants further study.

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