Psychological Medicine

Vulnerability and resiliency to suicidal behaviours in young people

a1 Christchurch Health and Development Study and Canterbury Suicide Project, Christchurch School of Medicine, Christchurch, New Zealand


Background. We aimed to examine factors that influence vulnerability/resiliency of depressed young people to suicidal ideation and suicide attempt.

Method. Data were gathered during a 21-year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 New Zealand young people. Measures included: suicide attempt; suicidal ideation; major depression; childhood, family, individual and peer factors.

Results. Young people who developed major depression had increased rates of suicidal ideation (OR=5·4; 95% CI 4·5–6·6) and suicide attempt (OR=12·1; 95% CI 7·9–18·5). However, the majority of depressed young people did not develop suicidal ideation or make suicide attempts, suggesting that additional factors influence vulnerability or resiliency to suicidal responses. Factors influencing resiliency/vulnerability to suicidal responses included: family history of suicide; childhood sexual abuse; neuroticism; novelty seeking; self-esteem; peer affiliations; and school achievement. These factors operated in the same way to influence vulnerability/resiliency among those depressed and those not depressed.

Conclusions. Vulnerability/resiliency to suicidal responses among those depressed (and those not depressed) is influenced by an accumulation of factors including: family history of suicide, childhood sexual abuse, personality factors, peer affiliations and school success. Positive configurations of these factors confer increased resiliency, whereas negative configurations increase vulnerability.

c1 Address for correspondence: Professor D. M. Fergusson, Christchurch Health and Development Study, Christchurch School of Medicine, PO Box 4345, Christchurch, New Zealand.