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In the aftermath of teenage suicide: a qualitative study of the psychosocial consequences for the surviving family members
Division of Forensic Psychiatry, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Forensic Medicine.
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.
2008 (English)In: BMC Psychiatry, ISSN 1471-244X, Vol. 8, no 1, 26- p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background Studies of family reactions following teenage suicide are hampered by the psychological difficulties of approaching families and recruiting an unbiased sample of study subjects. By using a small but consecutive series of cases, we examined the qualitative aspects of loosing a teenage family member due to suicide. Such an understanding is important for future organisation of proper programs that provide professional support in the grief process.

Methods From a large project on teenage unnatural death in northern Sweden 1981-2000 (n=88), 13 cases from 1995 through 1998 were retrospectively identified and consecutively analysed. Ten families agreed to participate. The open interviews took place 15 to 25 months after the suicide. The information gathered was manually analysed according to a grounded theory model, resulting in allocation of data into one of three domains: post-suicidal reactions, impact on daily living, and families´need for support.

Results. Teenager suicide is a devastating trauma for the surviving family and the lacko of sustainable explanations for the suicide is a predominant issue in the grief process. The prolonged social and psychological isolation of the families in grief should be challenged. At the time of the interview, the families were still struggling with explaining why the suicide occurred, especially since most suicides had occurred without overt premonitory signs. The bereaved family members were still profoundly affected by the loss, but all had returned to an ostensibly normal life. Post-suicide support was often badly timed and insufficient, especially for younger siblings.

Conclusions Family doctors can organise a long-term, individually formulated support scheme for the bereaved, including laymen who can play a most significant role in the grief process. There is also a need for better understanding of the families who have lost a teenager whom committed suicide and for the development and testing of treatment schemes for the bereaved family.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2008. Vol. 8, no 1, 26- p.
Keyword [en]
teenage suicide, surviving family members
National Category
Forensic Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-9559DOI: 10.1186/1471-244X-8-26PubMedID: 18426560OAI: diva2:149230
Available from: 2008-04-25 Created: 2008-04-25 Last updated: 2013-10-14Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Teenager fatalities: epidemiology and implications for prevention
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Teenager fatalities: epidemiology and implications for prevention
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

A significant number of teenagers are killed each year by unintentional or intentional injuries. A teenager is in a vulnerable phase of her/his life, going from being a child to adult. This transition often includes testing the limits of their capabilities, which can include, e.g., high speed driving, testing alcohol and other drugs, including drinking and driving. The development from child to adult includes different psychological stress factors, such as, e.g., school problems, broken love affairs and bullying. The demands – perceived or real – also increases over time and vulnerable individuals can turn to self-harm and in the most extreme case suicide.

The aim of this thesis was to investigate teenager fatalities in the northern half of Sweden and to suggest preventive measures.

A survey of teenager fatalities during a twenty-year period revealed that the incidence of unintentional (n=248) deaths decreased, while intentional (n=102) deaths were unaffected over time. Most unintentional deaths were transportation related (n=204) while most of the intentional deaths were suicides (n=88). Twenty-eight percent of the decedents were test-positive for alcohol at autopsy.

In a series of three studies, teenager suicides were investigated in depth, firstly through an interview study with the investigating police officer in charge of the investigation of a teenager suicide. Most of the suicides occurred in rural and depopulated areas despite the fact that most teenagers live in the larger cities along the coastline. A majority of the suicides appeared to be planned. Females, contrary to males, often had a psychiatric history. One of the conclusions was that police officers provide essential information concerning the circumstances around a teenager suicide.

Parents who had lost a child through suicide, and in some cases siblings, were interviewed 15-25 months after the suicide. It was striking how the life of the surviving family members were still affected by the devastating trauma of the suicide; most parents testified that they were still struggling with the question “why?” and that they were thinking of their lost child every day. Post suicide support was often badly timed and insufficient, especially for the younger siblings. The family doctor has an important role as a co-ordinator of a long-term individually formulated support scheme for the bereaved.

Evidence of suicide contagion and suicide cluster formation, i.e., one teenager suicide led to another suicide, was found in these studies, and two suicide clusters were identified, with links between the victims in each cluster. Both clusters occurred within a geographical and timely proximity. Everyone involved in the well-being of the young should be aware of the risk of contagion and suicide cluster formation.

The fifth study concerned 12,812 teenagers who visited the Emergency Room at Umeå University Hospital due to an injury during 1993 through 2006. Sixty-one of these were found dead through 2007, 49 by unnatural (of which 38 were included) and 12 by natural causes. The standard mortality rate for unnatural death was calculated to 1.44 (1.02-1.98), confirming an increased risk of premature death. In many of these deaths, alcohol and drugs may have contributed. By increasing the awareness among health professionals that injury can predict a premature death - primarily among those who develop substance abuse - some premature deaths may be prevented by early intervention.

This thesis confirms that most teenagers die from unnatural causes, mostly in transportation-related events and by suicide. By studying these deaths, preventive measures that could save lives have been suggested.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå Universitet, 2010. 56 p.
Umeå University medical dissertations, ISSN 0346-6612 ; 1371
Teenager, fatalities, injury, suicide, alcohol, drugs, intoxication, trends
National Category
Forensic Science
Research subject
Forensic Medicine
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-36682 (URN)978-91-7459-063-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2010-10-29, Betula, by 6M, Umeå, 15:05 (Swedish)
Available from: 2010-10-11 Created: 2010-10-07 Last updated: 2012-10-09Bibliographically approved

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