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Prediction of Adolescent Suicidality: Relative Contribution of Diagnosis, Psychopathy, and Impulsivity




Cowles, Natalie

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Suicide is a leading cause of death among American youth, and specific subgroups among the general population have been identified as being at particularly high risk for suicidality. The present study sought to assess diagnostic, personality, and behavioral characteristics relevant to the prediction of suicidality in a sample of adjudicated females, one group exhibiting relatively high rates of suicidal ideation, gestures, and attempts. Fifty-four girls residing in a bootcamp-style residential program completed a diagnostic interview, a self-report measure of impulsivity and callous-unemotional traits, and a series of computerized behavioral tasks designed to assess impulsivity and behavioral inhibition. Over 24% of the current sample endorsed experiencing suicidal ideation and making at least one serious suicide attempt during their lives. Diagnostic status was found to be related to the presence of suicidal ideation and attempts, with those with comorbid symptoms of depression and conduct problems reporting the highest rates of suicidality. An association was expected between callous-unemotional traits (CU), a hallmark of psychopathy, and suicidality, but no significant group differences were found in CU across levels of suicidality. Using hierarchical regression analyses, only self-reported impulsivity predicted suicidality above and beyond diagnostic status. These results highlight the need to assess both diagnostic status and impulsivity as potential risk factors for suicidality in both research and clinical endeavors.