Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among First-Year College Students: Results From the WMH-ICS Project
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Objective College entrance may be a strategically well-placed “point of capture” for detecting late adolescents with suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STB). However, a clear epidemiological picture of STB among incoming college students is lacking. We present the first cross-national data on prevalence as well as socio-demographic and college-related correlates for STB among first-year college students.
Method Web-based self-report surveys were obtained from 13,984 first-year students (response rate 45.5%) across 19 colleges in 8 countries (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Spain, and the United States).
Results Lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts was 32.7%, 17.5%, and 4.3%, respectively. The 12-month prevalence was 17.2%, 8.8%, and 1.0%, respectively. About three-fourths of STB cases had onset before the age of 16 years (Q3 = 15.8), with persistence figures in the range of 41% to 53%. About one-half (53.4%) of lifetime ideators transitioned to a suicide plan; 22.1% of lifetime planners transitioned to an attempt. Attempts among lifetime ideators without plan were less frequent (3.1%). Significant correlates of lifetime STB were cross-nationally consistent and generally modest in effect size (median adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.7). Nonheterosexual orientation (aOR range 3.3−7.9) and heterosexual orientation with some same-sex attraction (aOR range 1.9−2.3) were the strongest correlates of STB, and of transitioning from ideation to plans and/or attempts (aOR range 1.6−6.1).
Conclusion The distribution of STB in first-year students is widespread, and relatively independent of socio-demographic risk profile. Multivariate risk algorithms based on a high number of risk factors are indicated to efficiently link high-risk status with effective preventive interventions.
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