Attitudes and Beliefs of Adolescents and Parents Regarding Adolescent Suicide

In focus groups, adolescents and parents stated that suicide was a problem in communities other than their own. This study used focus groups to explore the beliefs of adolescents and parents regarding teen suicide. The authors were particularly interested in the perceived risks for suicide, warning signs in potential victims, and how to prevent the act.

Adolescent participants came from a community center in Chicago and high schools in Kansas City and a rural area of Kansas. The eligible age range for adolescents was 13 to 15 years. Recruitment methods included posters, the use of e-mail messages, meetings and after-school programs. Among parent and adolescent participants, there were four sociodemographic groups: urban Black, urban Hispanic, suburban White, and rural White.

A professional moderator ran each focus group using a guide specific to this study. Sessions lasted from 60 to 90 minutes. At each focus group, a pediatrician was available to answer questions and ease the concerns of participants. Researchers audiotaped and transcribed each session. A computer program organized the transcribed data and researchers searched each transcript for common themes.

Key Finding:

  • Adolescents believed that a suicidal peer would exhibit obvious changes in behavior.
  • Urban adolescents stated that gangs and trouble with the law contributed to suicide.
  • Many adolescent girls believed they could prevent a friend’s suicide by talking to the friend or finding professional help; urban Black adolescents were more likely to state that suicide was inevitable for some individuals.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that roughly 14.5 percent of U.S. high school students considered suicide in 2006.