Identifying risk factors for suicidal ideation in Indian adolescent girls

A young Indian woman walking, viewed from the back

May 22, 2024 – Adolescent girls in India have a higher risk of suicidal ideation (SI) if they experience psychological distress or intergenerational violence, according to a study.

The study, published May 8 in PLOS Global Public Health, was led by Anushka Patel, postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Patel and colleagues wanted to learn more about what drives suicide among Indian women, who account for 37% of global suicide-related deaths. They used survey data from a study of nearly 12,000 adolescent girls aged 10–19 living in the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Data was collected in 2015 and 2016 about potential risk factors for SI, including demographics, social determinants, and trauma exposure, and the researchers followed up three years later to evaluate levels of SI.

For the new study, researchers found that the girls fell into several groups with different characteristics. The group with the highest SI risk experienced higher levels of psychological distress than other groups, including depression, substance use, and emotional violence inflicted by a spouse. In the group with the second highest SI risk, girls experienced high levels of intergenerational violence, had the highest rates of witnessing domestic violence, and were the most likely to be married and face spousal physical violence. They also tended to be the oldest, least wealthy, and least educated. A third group, which included the largest proportion of girls, faced more moderate risk of SI, while a fourth—girls that were generally the youngest, most educated, and most wealthy—had the lowest SI risk.

“Our study reinforces the need for early intervention for improved psychological, health, and social outcomes,” the co-authors wrote.

They recommended that public health policies should target the specific risk factors identified in the study. “Disrupting cycles of psychological distress and substance use, increasing access to behavioral interventions, and intervening to mitigate intergenerational violence may be particularly impactful with this population,” they wrote.

Read the study: Unpacking the ‘black box’ of suicide: A latent class analysis predicting profiles of suicidal ideation in a longitudinal cohort of adolescent girls from India

– Jay Lau

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