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Suicidal behavior: Researchers find data points that could serve as predictors for high school students in Texas

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A new study published in the journal Cogent Psychology attempts to identify factors that could be used as predictors of suicidal behavior in Texas high school students. The study conducted by the Center for Health Equity & Evaluation Research at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health used nationally representative data of high school students from 2017 and 2019 to explore potential predictors and factors associated with suicide in adolescents in Texas.

The dataset used in this study, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, measures health-risk behaviors in a sample of students in grades 9–12. The survey includes data on race and ethnicity, gender and sexual identity, the presence of school-based violence or violence-related behavior, sexual practices, substance use, and mental health and well-being. The survey asked students whether they felt sad or hopeless enough to stop usual activities, whether they had seriously considered suicide, made a plan to attempt or attempted suicide in the past 12 months.

Graduate student Morgan J. Grant and Professor Tamika Gilreath in the Department of Health Behavior at the School of Public Health, collaborating with colleagues from Texas A&M University, found that more than one-third of survey respondents reported feeling so sad or helpless for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped their usual activities. The vast majority of students in the sample stated they had not considered, planned or attempted suicide, with nearly 90 percent reporting no attempts over the previous 12 months. However, their analysis found notable differences among different groups of students.

The researchers found that female students were twice as likely to report suicidal thoughts or actions and LGBTQ students and those unsure of their sexuality were almost twice as likely. They also found that carrying a weapon on school property, feeling unsafe at school or being in a fight increased the odds of suicidal thoughts or actions. Bullying at school or electronically or experiencing unwanted sexual interactions were also associated with higher risks. The analysis also found that substance use was associated with greater suicidality risk. The findings of this study highlight the risk that LGBTQ students in Texas face and the need for suicide prevention and mental health interventions that are tailored for female and LGBTQ students. The study also points to a need for further research into adolescents experiencing bullying and violence and those engaging in substance use. Additional study would help develop tailored mental health interventions for these different vulnerable populations.