Socio-demographic, mental health and childhood adversity risk factors for self-harm and suicidal behaviour in College Students in Northern Ireland

Siobhan O'Neill, Margaret Mc Lafferty, Edel Ennis, Coral Lapsley, AJ Bjourson, C Armour, SD Murphy, B Bunting, EK Murray

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Prevalence estimates of suicidal behaviour in the college student population are consistently higher than rates for the general adult population. This study examines mental health disorders and childhood adversities as predictors of self-harm and suicidal behaviours.

The Ulster University Student Wellbeing study commenced in September 2015 as part of the WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project. In Northern Ireland (NI) 739 students participated (462 female, 274 male and 3 other specified), with the WMH-CIDI used to examine psychopathology. Mean age was 21 years old.

Thirty-one percent endorsed suicidal ideation (24.3% of males and 36.9% of females) with almost 1 in 5 students having made a plan for suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey. Latent profile analysis revealed three profiles of childhood adversity (high, moderate, and low risk). Logistic regression analyses showed that there was an increased likelihood of all queried self-harm and suicidal behaviours in those who were not heterosexual orientation, and among those with either moderate or high levels of childhood adversities. Probable alcohol dependence was associated with a significantly increased likelihood of suicide attempt or self-harm with either a suicide plan or a suicide attempt.

Influences of self-report measures and the generalizability of the sample are discussed.

Policies and strategies for early identification of those with mental illnesses or adversities that increase their risk, should be prioritised. It would also be useful to identify individuals at risk in secondary schools to allow for additional support to be offered to them during the key time of transitioning into higher education.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberJAD9849
Pages (from-to)58-65
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Early online date22 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Oct 2018


  • College students
  • Suicidal behaviour
  • Mental health
  • Childhood adversities
  • LGBT


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