Category: Suicide and Self-Injury

PS5- #A6 - How Adolescents Conceptualize Death: Death Attitudes and Its Association With Suicidal Ideation

Friday, Nov 17
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Suicide | Adolescents

Suicide is an important public health concern and is the second leading cause of death among adolescents (CDC, 2013). Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs) typically increase in frequency rapidly from late childhood through adolescence (Cash & Bridge, 2009). This trajectory also parallels the crystallization of the concept of death from childhood through adolescence (Jenkins & Cavanaugh, 1987). How teenagers think about death may have important implications for their behaviors. Research has revealed a significant relationship between death attitudes and risk taking behavior, suggesting that adolescents with high death acceptance (vs. death intolerance) engage more frequently in risk taking behaviors (e.g., unsafe sex, substance abuse; Haynie et al., 2014). Adolescents with a high “attraction to death” report higher levels of suicidal ideation (SI; Osman et al, 1994). However, the content of these thoughts about death has seldom been studied. The current study seeks to further illuminate the relationship between death attitudes and SI among adolescents.

Thirty-four adolescents (M=15.5 years; SD=2.3) were recruited from the community to participate in a laboratory study on cognitive risk factors for STBs. Sixteen adolescents endorsed experiencing SI and 18 reported never having SI. Adolescents completed the following self-report measures: the Suicide Ideation Questionnaire (SIQ), to assess frequency and intensity of SI, the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms (QIDS) to assess current depression, the Death Attitude Profile-Revised (DAP-R) to assess attitudes towards death. The DAP-R is comprised of 5 subscales that assess participants’ subjective beliefs about deaths. The current study included the following three subscales: Death Avoidance (i.e., thoughts about death are avoided), Escape Acceptance (i.e., beliefs that death is an escape from pain and suffering), and Neutral Acceptance (i.e., beliefs about the inevitability of death).

Simple linear regression analyses revealed significant relationships between SIQ scores and Neutral and Escape Acceptance (R2=.14 and .69, respectively), βs=9.6-17.0, ps=.04-Escape Acceptance was the only subscale that remained significant, β= 12.7, p There was no significant relationship between SIQ scores and Death Avoidance.

Relative to nonsuicidal adolescents, suicidal adolescents appear to accept death as both an inevitable part of life and as a viable escape from suffering. These initial findings point to potential treatment targets (e.g., reframing the belief that death provides an escape from pain and suffering). Subsequent analyses will be conducted on a larger sample by November (n=50). 

Katherine M. Tezanos

Teachers College, Columbia University

Katherine DiVasto

Lab Manager
Teachers College, Columbia University

Kelly Wilson

Teachers College, Columbia Universtiy

Christine B Cha

Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology
Teachers College, Columbia University