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Factors that distinguish college students with depressive symptoms with and without suicidal thoughts

Maren Nyer, PhD

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Daphne J. Holt, MD, PhD

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Paola Pedrelli, PhD

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Maurizio Fava, MD

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Victoria Ameral, BA

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Clair F. Cassiello, BA

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

Matthew K. Nock, PhD

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Margaret Ross, MD

Behavioral Medicine, Boston University Student Health Services, Boston, MA, USA

Dori Hutchinson, ScD

Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA

Amy Farabaugh, PhD

Depression Clinical and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

BACKGROUND: Suicide among college students is a significant public health concern. Although suicidality is linked to depression, not all depressed college students experience suicidal ideation (SI). The primary aim of this study was to determine potential factors that may distinguish college students with depressive symptoms with and without SI.

METHODS: A total of 287 undergraduate college students with substantial depressive symptoms (Beck Depression Inventory [BDI] total score >13) with and without SI were compared across psychiatric and functional outcome variables. Independent sample t tests were conducted for each outcome variable using the suicide item of the BDI as a dichotomous (ie, zero vs nonzero score) grouping variable.

RESULTS: Relative to students with substantial depressive symptoms without SI, those with SI were more symptomatic overall, having significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and anxiety. However, contrary to our expectations, nonsuicidal and suicidal students did not differ on measures of everyday functioning (ie, cognitive and physical functioning and grade point average).

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that SI among college students is associated with increased subjective distress but may not adversely impact physical or cognitive functioning or academic performance.

KEYWORDS: suicide, depression, college students, anxiety, undergraduate, hopelessness

ANNALS OF CLINICAL PSYCHIATRY 2013;25(1):41-49

CORRESPONDENCE: Maren Nyer, PhD Depression Clinical and Research Program Massachusetts General Hospital 1 Bowdoin Square, 6th Floor Boston, MA 02114 USA, E-MAIL: mnyer@partners.org
Annals of Clinical Psychiatry ©2013 Quadrant HealthCom Inc.

 
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