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Community Plays Key Role In Preventing Teen Suicide, UF Scientist Says

GAINESVILLE---In a study of almost 15,000 teens, a University of Florida researcher has found that community involvement plays an important role in preventing suicide.

"Until now, we had never taken a community-based look at suicide," said Daniel Perkins, a researcher in UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "Previously, we had only used data collected from clinics or gathered on a post-mortem basis. Few studies have assessed risk factors related to suicidal behaviors among a 'normal,' or community, sample of adolescents.

"So this is a different way of looking at suicide."

Adolescence is a time fraught with danger for teens, Perkins said. Accidents and violence are the top two causes of death for adolescents, but suicide is a close third. The teen suicide rate, in fact, has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, according to national studies.

Perkins' study involved 14,922 Michigan youths, ages 12 to 17, who anonymously answered a 152-item survey, The Search Institute's Profiles on Student Life: Attitude and Behavior Questionnaire. For purposes of his study, Perkins used 15 categories of information from the questionnaire to assess the group's thoughts about suicide. Michigan students were used because of the widespread access to schools there.

Risk factors that showed up on the survey and that were measured by Perkins were divided into three categories: individual, family and outside the family.

On the individual level, the risk factors that were measured were religious feelings, physical and sexual abuse, hopelessness, and use of alcohol, marijuana and hard drugs. On the family level, the measured factors were family support, parental addictions and parental monitoring.

Interesting to Perkins, though, was that one factor outside the family played a large role: school climate.

"Teen-agers spend a lot of time in schools, and schools are a place where kids become engaged," Perkins said. "Sometimes we find kids who are doi
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Contact: Daniel Perkins
352-392-2201
University of Florida
12-May-1999


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