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Students Face Violence, Victimization, Suicidal Thoughts

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Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found that an increase in suicidal thoughts in adolescents appears to be associated with recent victimization, including by peers, a sexual assault, or other maltreatment.

Using data from the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, researchers found that about 4 percent of the 1,186 people captured in the survey reported having suicidal thoughts in the month preceding their respective interviews. Youths in the survey were ages 10 to 17.

In the study, published online this week in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, adolescents who had been victimized by peers were more than twice as likely to contemplate suicide than peers. Sexual assault increased these thoughts by more than 300 percent. And those who researchers defined as maltreated were more than four times as likely to experience "suicidal ideation."

Exposure to multiple types of victimization meant children and youth were almost six times more likely to think about suicide.

How much of that sort of trauma students happens at school? About 20 percent of high school students report being bullied at school and more than 30 percent of high school students report being in a physical fight, a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Nearly 700,000 young people ages 10 to 24 were treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained from violence in 2009.

This week, America's Safe Schools Week, students around the country have been discussing how to prevent violence in schools and raising awareness about the issue. (While not directly related, about 70,000 students in South Carolina are pledging not to bring guns to school as part of an ongoing project in that state.)

The UNH researchers said that their study's findings emphasize the need for comprehensive victimization assessments in adolescent suicide prevention efforts. "A comprehensive approach to suicide prevention needs to address the safety of youth in their homes, schools and neighborhoods," they said.

Over in Education Week's Commentary section, two experts discuss some of the steps schools can take to this end.

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