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Multiple factors contribute to youth suicide

December 18, 2014

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Sunnybrook researchers confirm previous findings in the US that youth suicide is not predominantly attributable to any single factor but rather is a result of a complex interplay of biological, psychological and social factors.

"Mental illness is a significant contributor to youth suicide, both alone and in combination with psychosocial stressors," says Dr. Mark Sinyor, lead author of a new study and a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “We found that bullying is one of these stressors, but it is detected less frequently than many other stressful life events common in youth.”

Their observational study, published in the December issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, systematically examined stressors that precede suicide death in Canadian youth, including bullying.

Among the 94 Toronto youth suicides included in the study, the most common stressors were conflict with parents (21.3 per cent), romantic partner problems (17.0 per cent), academic problems (10.6 per cent), criminal and (or) legal problems (10.6 per cent) with bullying detected in 6.4% of cases. Stressors or mental and (or) physical illness was detected in 78.7 per cent of cases, and depression was detected in 40 per cent of cases.

“These findings suggest that we clearly require more information before we begin to oversimplify links between any individual factor and its potential impact on suicide in youth,” says Dr. Ayal Schaffer, a senior author on the study and head of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at Sunnybrook.

Sinyor says that for now “the take home message is that we ought to be focusing on a two-pronged approach to stressful life events in youth. Of course we should work to minimize the amount of stress they are under, whether it be by efforts to strengthen family relationships or prevent bullying. But we also need to acknowledge, as this study suggests, that many different kinds of stress are a part of life and that we need to work harder to send a message to our youth that they can overcome stress with the appropriate tools and to provide resources, including timely access to mental health care, to those who are struggling.”

For individuals in distress who need help in an emergency or are in crisis:

  • Visit your local emergency department or call 911
  • Call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868
  • Call the Toronto Distress Centres at (416) 408-4357 or 408-HELP
  • Call the Gerstein Centre (416) 929-5200, 24 hrs/7 days