Adolescent Research Review

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 155–172 | Cite as

Why Suicide?

Reasons for Suicide Attempts as Self-Reported by Youth: A Systematic Evaluation of Qualitative Studies
  • Alexandra Nicolopoulos
  • Katherine Boydell
  • Fiona Shand
  • Helen Christensen
Qualitative Review


Suicide is a complex phenomenon, and no two suicides are ever the same. While current theoretical models of suicide are heavily informed by first-rate epidemiological and clinical knowledge, little research has qualitatively investigated the motivation for a suicide attempt, from the personal perspective of the person who makes the attempt. These perspectives are particularly absent for youth, whose cognitive interpretation and reasoning skills are less likely to be adequately established than those of adults, and who may need to be approached differently to adults to ensure their reported reasons are genuinely reflected in the published literature. This study sought to identify and examine past qualitative research which has investigated motivating factors for suicide attempts among youth aged 12–25. MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO databases were searched and a systematic narrative review of qualitative studies was undertaken. Independent raters assessed comprehensiveness of reporting of included studies. Thematic networks analysis was used to analyze the data. From 17 studies involving 613 participants, basic and organizing themes were identified and grouped into four major themes: intrapersonal, sociocultural, interpersonal and historical factors, as those directly attributed to suicide attempts. Comprehensiveness of reporting among studies was assessed, and particular subdomains identified as inadequately reported, i.e., relationships with participants, theoretical frameworks, and design and implementation of studies. We conclude that more robust and comprehensive theoretical frameworks could enhance the knowledge base of the complex and multiple factors that motivate youth to take their own lives. These findings revealed that comprehensive qualitative inquiry is essential in effectively identifying central themes which may otherwise be minimized or missed in clinical and epidemiological studies.


Suicide attempt Adolescents Qualitative Self-report Youth 



The NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP) and The Anika Foundation both sponsor Ms Nicolopoulos as a PhD candidate. We therefore acknowledge their full support of the research reported in this article.

Authors’ Contribution

AN conceived of the study and its design and coordination, directed the design and interpretation of data, and drafted the manuscript. KB participated in the interpretation of data and measurement outcomes, and helped to draft the manuscript. FS participated in the design and coordination of the study, as well as assisting in the design and interpretation of data. HC oversaw the design of the manuscript in its entirety. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Black Dog Institute. University of New South Wales: School of PsychiatrySydneyAustralia

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