“Invisible Risk” among Adolescents

February 19, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

A study of more than 12,000 schoolchildren in 11 European countries found that high media use, sedentary behavior, and reduced sleep are associated with an elevated risk for suicide and mental health issues linked to suicide. Because these behaviors are relatively inconspicuous and “generally not perceived by adults, including mental health professionals, as troublesome,” this “invisible risk” may not trigger the services offered to young people with behaviors that are both more conspicuous and more widely recognized as related to suicide risk (i.e., alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse).

The high risk group also showed elevated levels of high media use, sedentary behavior, and reduced sleep, which provides additional evidence that these “invisible” risk factors are associated with suicide. In contrast, the invisible risk group was not characterized by high levels of alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse – evidence that the “invisible” risk factors raise suicide risk in and of themselves (i.e., without the presence of alcohol, drug, and tobacco abuse). The high and invisible risk groups showed similar levels of mental health disorders associated with suicide risk (e.g., depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation).

Compared to low risk adolescents, young people in the high and invisible risk groups were also more likely to come from a single parent household, a family in which one of the parents had recently lost a job, or a household in which at least one of the parents – or the young person – was born in another country. The prevalence of suicide attempts in the “invisible risk “group (5.9 percent) was below that of the high risk group (10.1 percent) but higher than that of the group at low risk for suicide (1.7 percent).

Carli, V., Hoven, C., Wasserman, C., Chiesa, F., Guffanti, G., Sarchiapone, M., . . .Wasserman, D. (2014). A newly identified group of adolescents at “invisible” risk for psychopathology and suicidal behavior: Findings from the SEYLE study. World Psychiatry, 13(1), 78-86.