As per a study published by the American Psychological Association, teen females who have more trouble efficiently resolving interpersonal difficulties when they are under social stress and those with more interpersonal stress in their lives are more likely to engage in suicidal behaviour.
Previous research has found that interpersonal stressors, such as conflict with peers, friends and family, are related to suicidal behaviour. Some theories of suicidal behaviour suggest that poor social problem-solving skills may contribute to the link, possibly because teens with poorer social problem-solving skills are more likely to see suicide as a viable solution to their distress when they feel they’ve exhausted other options. The research in question aimed to test these associations by considering both experimentally simulated and real-world measures of suicide risk. The research was published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science.
"The findings provide empirical support for cognitive and behavioral theories of suicide that suggest that deficits in abilities to effectively manage and solve interpersonal problems may be related to suicidal behavior," said author Olivia Pollak, MA, of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Clinically, this is notable, as problem-solving features prominently in several treatments for suicidal or self-harming behaviors.”
Participants in the study included 185 girls aged 12 to 17 who had experienced some mental health concerns in the past two years. At the beginning of the study, participants completed surveys or interviews about their mental health symptoms and suicidal behaviours. They also completed a task assessing their social problem-solving skills, which involved responding to scenarios involving interpersonal conflicts or challenges with other people, such as peers, friends, family members and romantic partners.
The researchers also followed the girls for nine months, checking in every three months to ask them about the stressors they were experiencing in interpersonal domains, such as with peers, friends and family members, and about suicidal behaviours.
Overall, the researchers found that girls who showed greater declines in problem-solving effectiveness in the lab and who experienced higher levels of interpersonal stress over the nine-month follow-up period were more likely to exhibit suicidal behaviour over the nine-month follow-up period.
"Importantly, problem-solving deficits under distress may increase risk for future suicidal behavior only in combination with greater cumulative interpersonal stress in real life," Pollak said. "Risk for suicidal behavior was higher among adolescents who showed greater declines in effectiveness and who experienced high levels of interpersonal stress over nine-month follow-up, consistent with robust evidence for links between interpersonal life stress and suicidal behavior.”