Friendship problems and suicidality in Mexican-American and European-American adolescents: a longitudinal analysis
Winterrowd, Erin, author
Canetto, Silvia Sara, advisor
Harman, Jennifer J., committee member
Kees, Nathalie L., committee member
Chavez, Ernest L., committee member
The influence of friends increases dramatically during adolescence, with different patterns by gender and ethnicity. Yet friendship factors in adolescent suicidality are understudied and not well-understood. Research has found a direct, long-term relationship between friendship problems and suicidality. Specifically, it has documented that factors such as social isolation, more negative friendships, poor quality friendship, and friendship intransitivity predict later suicidal ideation and nonfatal suicidality, with some relationships between friendship factors and suicidality being stronger than depression. However, it is unclear how these findings may apply to ethnic minority youth, particularly those with high rates of suicidality. This study explored the impact of friendship factors in the early teen years on suicidality in the late teen years, and among Mexican-American and European-American girls and boys. Participants included youth in good academic standing and youth at risk of dropping out as well as youth who had dropped out of school. Data collection occurred in two waves from 1989 to 2001, with the second wave beginning about three years after the start of the first wave. The sample consisted of 295 (59% Mexican-American; 41% European-American) adolescents ages 14-20 (M = 16.5) at Time 1, and ages 18-23 years (M = 19.5) at Time 2. The friendship factors measured in this study were having friendship problems such as social isolation (lack of friends) and poor quality friendship as well as having problematic friends such as friends' school disconnectedness and friends' delinquency. These friendship factors were chosen because of their established relationship with adolescent suicidality, in the case of friendship problems such as social isolation and poor quality friendship, as well as their association with other adolescent problem behaviors, as in the case of problematic friends such as friends' school disconnectedness and friends' delinquency. Logistic regression was used to predict suicidality at Time 2 as a function of friendship factors at Time 1 (controlling for suicidal ideation at Time 1). Logistic regression was also used to examine whether depression mediated the relationship between friendship factors and suicidality. This study confirms the role of friendship factors in youth suicidality, with variability by ethnicity and sex, and with an important role for depression as a mediating factor. For European-American youth, depression fully mediated the positive relationship between having friends who were disconnected from school and suicidal ideation. In contrast, having friends who were disconnected from school was negatively associated with suicidal behavior for Mexican-American youth, particularly Mexican-American boys, after controlling for depression. At the same time, for Mexican-American youth, having delinquent friends predicted higher rates of suicidal ideation above and beyond the contribution of depression and initial suicidal ideation. In this study, social isolation and poor quality friendship were not predictors of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Compared to other longitudinal studies of friendship factors and suicidality, the current study found that the relationship varies by ethnicity with different friendship factors predicting suicidality for Mexican- and European-American youth. Additionally, problematic friends were a better predictor of suicidality than having friendship problems. This study begins to articulate what may be ethnic-specific risk factors in adolescent suicidality. If confirmed, the findings have implications for the design of culturally-grounded models of suicide prevention.
Department Head: Ernest L. Chavez.
Includes bibliographical references.
Includes bibliographical references.
Teenagers -- Suicidal behavior -- United States
Suicidal behavior -- Risk factors
Hispanic American youth -- Suicidal behavior
Friendship in adolescence