Medicine, Mind and Adolescence, 1993 - 1994 - VIII, 2 - IX,1

Adolescent Suicide: A Causal Analysis Based on a Structural Equation Model

C. Violato, V. Grossi, V. Raab

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The central objective of the present study was to test a causal model of adolescent suicide employing structural equation modelling techniques. The underlying causal model was developed based on the theory of disrupted childhood attachments leading to early loss and subsequent developmental psychopathology. The path model begins with the latent variable (1) Instability which separates into two paths leading to the latent variables, (2) Pathology, and (3) Depression and Hopelessness. A fourth latent variable (4) Reality Avoidance, was posited to produce an indirect influence on the criterion variable - suicidal behaviour - through Pathology. Accordingly, the full model specified is a Latent Variable Path Analysis (LVPA).

To test this model, data were collected from 260 (62 females, 198 males) institutionalised adolescents (mean age = 15.7 years), some of whom had attempted suicide (n=82) and some who had not (n=178). They were assessed on demographic, life history and psychological variables. Important variables measured included health and medical problems, depression, hopelessness, self-esteem, locus of control, academic achievement, family relations, peer relations, childhood moving frequency, number of caretakers in childhood, and quality of caretakers in childhood. The LVPA model provided a good fit to the data (Comparative Fit Index = .89; Residual Mean Square = .07; 84% of residuals near zero). Attempted suicide was influenced directly by Pathology (F2) and Depression and Hopelessness (F3), and indirectly as mediated through Pathology by Reality Avoidance (F4). Childhood Instability (F1) was at the source of both F2 and F3. Subsequent stepwise discriminant analysis confirmed a canonical function (r=.50) which successfully discriminated between suicidal and non suicidal adolescents (correct classification of subjects = 77%). The results from the present study provide strong support for the proposed four-factor LVPA causal model of attempted adolescent suicide. Moreover, these findings confirm the importance of early childhood attachments and early loss to developmental psychopathology generally, and adolescent suicide specifically. The implications for future research and the general theory of developmental psychopathology are discussed.

C. Violato, V. Grossi, V. Raab: Adolescent Suicide: A Causal Analysis Based on a Structural Equation Model". Paper presented at the First International Conference of Adolescentology, Assisi, Italy, October 22-24, 1993.

Key Words: Adolescent Suicide, Structural Equations Models, Cause of Suicide

Claudio Violato, Ph.D.: Department of Educational Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2N 1N4.

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