Social Problem Solving in Adolescents with Suicidal Behavior: A Systematic Review


  • This research was supported by a NATO-Science Fellowship from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

Department of Psychiatry, Radboud University Nijmegen, Medical Centre, P.O. Box 9101, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands; E-mail:


There is an increasing focus on deficiencies in problem solving as a vulnerability factor for suicidal behavior in general and hence a target for treatment in suicide attempters. In view of the uncertainty of evidence for this in adolescents we conducted a systematic review of the international research literature examining the possible relationship between deficiencies in social problem-solving skills and suicidal behavior in this population. This was based on searching two electronic databases: Medline 1966 to September 2003 and PsychInfo 1887 to September 2003. Twenty-two studies of social problem-solving skills in adolescents with suicidal behavior were found. Most of these studies, which compared adolescent patients with suicide attempts versus either nonsuicidal psychiatric or normal controls, found evidence for problem-solving deficits in the attempters; however, few of the differences remain after controlling for depression and/or hopelessness. Because most of the studies are cross-sectional, it is difficult to differentiate between the possibilities that deficiencies in problem-solving skills lead to depression when adolescents are faced by adversity and hence to suicidal behavior, or whether depression is the main factor which undermines problem-solving skills. Future research, preferably with longitudinal research designs, is required to determine the nature of the association between problem-solving skills and suicidal behavior in adolescents. This has important implications for therapeutic interventions.