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Bristol researchers’ first long-term look at how to predict suicide in young people

By jasmine norden, Thursday Mar 14, 2019

The first long-term look at potential factors that could lead to suicide attempts in high-risk young people has been carried out by academics from the University of Bristol.

The researchers examined questionnaire data from 16- and 21-year-olds who are part of Bristol’s Children of the 90s study, concentrating on those who had thought about suicide.

From the sample of more than 300 16-year-olds who had experienced suicidal thoughts, researchers wanted to know what proportion would make an attempt on their own life and if those at greatest risk could be identified.

They found that 12 per cent of adolescents with suicidal thoughts went on to make a suicide attempt during the five-year follow-up.

The factors that best helped to predict attempts were non-suicidal self-harm, cannabis and other illicit drug use, exposure to self-harm in friends or family, and having a personality type that is more open to new ideas and experiences.

Many of these predictive factors are in line with findings from previous research and in the future, researchers aim to investigate predictive factors for suicide attempts over shorter time periods.

Co-author and professor of epidemiology at the University of Bristol, David Gunnel, said: “Being better able to identify those at greatest risk and intervening may help reduce suicides in young people.”

Fellow author and research fellow at the University of Bristol, Dr Becky Mars, added: “Most young people who think about suicide will not make an attempt on their life.

“To help us identify which teenagers are most at risk, it’s crucial that we know more about how we can predict thoughts into actions.”

Papyrus HopelineUK is a confidential support and advice service for children and young People who are experiencing thoughts of suicide or anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about suicide. Call 0800 068 41 41 or visit

The Samaritans can be contacted by anyone for free and at any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on a phone bill. Alternatively, email or visit

Read more: ‘It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay’

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