• Open Access

Trauma, attempted suicide, and morning cortisol in a community sample of adolescents


  • Robert Young

    Corresponding author
    1. MRC Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow
    Current affiliation:
    1. MRC Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow
    • MRC Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, 4 Lilybank Gardens, Glasgow G12 8RZ, Scotland
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  • The work was funded by the Medical Research Council of Great Britain as part of the Youth and Health Programme (WBS U.1300.00.007) at the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit. The author thanks all those who made the “PaLS” project possible, and all the schools, survey assistants, and young people who took part. The author also thanks Patrick West, Helen Sweeting, Michael van Beinum, and Helen Minnis for their comments on an early draft of the manuscript, Shona Kelly our HPA-axis and cortisol expert, and Chris Lucas for his invaluable contribution regarding the Voice-DISC interview software.


Individuals exposed to trauma or who have attempted suicide may show abnormal cortisol profiles; those exposed to significant trauma show reduced, while those who attempt suicide show increased cortisol output, although the evidence is inconsistent. This study explores the associations between morning cortisol, trauma, and suicide attempts or ideation among young people. In a community-based sample of 501 15-year-olds, using data from a DSM-IV-compatible interview on suicidal-behavior/ideation, trauma, and morning cortisol, we found no association between these factors and morning cortisol. A significant gender interaction was found for those threatened with a weapon—men showing a negative and women a positive association, suggesting that any cortisol/trauma association may be partially explained by coexisting behavioral problems and gender.