32% of second-level students have suicidal thoughts

A new study has raised “serious concern” at the prevalence of suicidal thoughts among secondary school children.

The research, published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine said the relationship between parents and children is a potentially “critical” factor in preventing suicide.

The study said it was “imperative” that at-risk young people be identified as early as possible and suitable prevention strategies put in place.

The research was conducted among 93 students aged between 15 and 18 at a secondary school in Co Wexford.

The study’s authors, Sinéad McGilloway, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology in NUI Maynooth, and assistant Ciara Brennan, said there was “no reason” to expect why the findings were unrepresentative of young people generally.

Their results show:

* 32% of students they had experienced suicidal thoughts at some stage;

* 10% displayed high levels of suicide ideation;

* 70% knew someone who had either attempted to or had taken their own life;

* 40% of those who experienced suicidal thoughts had not received any professional help.

Those affected said they experienced suicidal thoughts as young as 10 years, although these most commonly occurred between 14 and 16.

The research found three- quarters of students consumed alcohol and that 48% of males and 21% of females were binge drinkers (more than five drinks in one session).

A third of students said they had used illegal drugs, such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, or amphetamines.

A quarter had “adjustment” problems, most commonly negative self-esteem and emotional distress. Emotional distress was significantly higher among females, with poor anger control and anti-social behaviour higher among males.

All high-risk students were currently using drugs and more commonly reported binge drinking (43%) than those without suicidal thoughts (29%).

“Those who engage in drug use and have low levels of perceived parental closeness were more likely to experience suicide ideation,” the report said. The importance of this parental relationship had not been previously examined in Irish studies, the authors said.

“This highlights the potentially critical role of parenting and of strong parent-child relationships in preventing suicide,” they said.

A third of participants said they had received professional help, primarily for anger management, stress and family problems.

However, four out of 10 of those who had experienced suicide ideation had never received professional help.

* Teenline: 1800 833 634; The Samaritans: 1850 60 90 90; turn2me.ie; aware.ie; pieta.ie.


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