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close this bookPreventing Suicide: A Resource for Teachers and other School Staff (WHO, 2000, 34 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentAn underestimated problem
View the documentProtective factors
View the documentRisk factors and risk situations
View the documentHow to identify students in distress and at possible risk of suicide
View the documentHow should suicidal students be managed at school?
View the documentSummary of recommendations
View the documentReferences
View the documentBack cover

An underestimated problem

In some cases, it may be impossible to ascertain whether some deaths,3 caused for example by car crashes, drowning, falls and overdoses of illegal drugs, were unintentional or intentional. Adolescent suicidal behaviour is widely deemed to be underreported, because many deaths of this type are inaccurately classified as unintentional or accidental.

Postmortem studies of adolescents who died from violent causes indicate that they do not constitute a homogeneous group. They show subtle manifestations of self-destructive and risk-taking tendencies4 and, while some of their deaths may be caused by unintentional acts, others are intentional acts resulting from the pain of living.

In addition, the definitions of attempted suicide used by students differ from those used by psychiatrists. Self-reported results show almost twice the number of suicide attempts revealed by psychiatric interviews. The most likely explanation is that the young people who responded to anonymous inquiries were using a broader definition of attempted suicide than that used by professionals. Moreover, only 50% of adolescents reporting that they had tried to kill themselves had sought hospital care after their suicide attempts. Thus, the number of suicide attempters treated in hospital is no real indication of the dimension of the problem in the community.

Generally speaking, adolescent boys commit suicide more often than girls do. Nevertheless, the rate of attempted suicide is two to three times higher among girls. Girls develop depression more often than boys do, but they also find it easier to talk about their problems and to seek assistance, and this probably helps to prevent fatal suicidal acts. Boys are often more aggressive and impulsive, and not infrequently act under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs, which probably contributes to the fatal outcome of their suicidal acts.