• depression;
  • suicide/self harm;
  • life events/stress;
  • mood disorders;
  • child/adolescent


To examine the role of depression and exposure to peer or family suicide and their interaction as risk factors for adolescent suicide attempts.


The study used the public-use data set of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which is a nationally representative stratified sample of U.S. high school students. Sample size was 4,719. Analyses predicted suicide attempts from preexisting depression and exposure to suicide of a friend or family member, controlling for previous suicide attempts, exposure, and depression.


The greatest risk for future suicide attempts (relative risk = 3.3), was attributable to an attempt in the preceding year, controlling for preexisting and current depression and exposure. There was a main effect of exposure with the next highest relative risk of 3.2. A similar risk ratio, 3.2, was found for the difference between no depression and current severe depression, controlling for past depression and attempts. There was no evidence of an interaction between exposure to a peer or family member suicide attempt and depression. Supplementary analyses found that exposure to a friend or family member suicide attempt or completed suicide each added significantly to risk for adolescents regardless of depression levels.


Exposure to suicidal behavior in a friend or family member poses risk equivalent to the risk posed by becoming severely depressed. Attending to such risks could benefit clinical practice with adolescence and public health suicide prevention efforts.