Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 753–771 | Cite as

Suicidal Behavior Among Homeless and Runaway Adolescents

  • Kevin A. Yoder
  • Dan R. Hoyt
  • Les B. Whitbeck


The present study considered risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and the likelihood of a suicide attempt in a sample of 297 homeless and runaway youth from four Midwestern states. It was hypothesized that sociodemographic characteristics, family factors, suicide exposure, street factors, externalizing behavior, and internalizing behavior would be related to suicidal ideation and to the likelihood of a suicide attempt. It was also hypothesized that suicidal ideation would mediate the relationship between the other predictor variables and the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Over half the sample (53.9%) endorsed some level of suicidal ideation, and over one quarter (26.3%) attempted suicide in the year prior to the interview. Univariate and multivariate results indicated that sexual abuse by a family member, knowing a friend who attempted suicide, drug abuse, and internalization were highly related to suicidal ideation. In the absence of suicidal ideation, sexual abuse, sexual victimization while on their own, and internalization were highly related to the likelihood of a suicide attempt. Finally, the hypothesized mediating effect was found for both sexual abuse and internalization.


Family Member Drug Abuse Predictor Variable Sexual Abuse Suicidal Ideation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for the Youth Self-Report and 1991 Profile. University of Vermont, Burlington.Google Scholar
  2. Adcock, A. G., Nagy, S., and Simpson, J. A. (1991). Selected risk factors in adolescent suicide attempts. Adolescence 26: 817–828.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, T. E. (1996). Suicidal impulse in depression and paranoia. In Maltsberger, J. T., and Goldblatt, M. J. (eds.), Essential Papers on Suicide. New York University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Andrews, J. A., and Lewinsohn, P. M. (1992). Suicidal attempts among older adolescents: Prevalence and co-occurrence with psychiatric disorders. J. Am. Acad. Child Adoles. Psychiat. 31: 655–662.Google Scholar
  5. Andrus, J. K., Fleming, D. W., Heumann, M. A., Wassell, J. T., Hopkins, D. D., and Gordon, J. (1991). Surveillance of attempted suicide among adolescents in Oregon, 1988. Am. J. Public Health 81: 1067–1069.Google Scholar
  6. Asberg, M., Träskman, L., and Thorén, P. (1996). 5-HIAA in the cerebrospinal fluid: A biochemical suicide predictor? In Maltsberger, J. T., and Goldblatt, M. J. (eds.), Essential Papers on Suicide. New York University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  7. Baron, R. M., and Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. J. Personal. Social Psychol. 51: 1173–1182.Google Scholar
  8. Beck, A. T., Weissman, A., Lester, D., and Trexler, L. (1974). The measurement of pessimism: The hopelessness scale. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 42: 861–865.Google Scholar
  9. Bohan, J. S. (1996). Psychology and Sexual Orientation. Routledge, New York.Google Scholar
  10. Bolger, N., Downey, G., Walker, E., and Steininger, P. (1989). The onset of suicidal ideation in childhood and adolescence. J. Youth Adolesc. 18: 175–189.Google Scholar
  11. Brent, D. A., Kalas, R., Edelbrock, C., Costello, A. J., Dulcan, M. K., and Conover, N. (1986). Psychopathology and its relationship to suicidal ideation in childhood and adolescence. J. Am. Acad. Child Psychiat. 25: 666–673.Google Scholar
  12. Carlson, G. A., and Cantwell, D. P. (1982). Suicidal behavior and depression in children and adolescents. J. Am. Acad. Child Adoles. Psychiat. 21: 361–368.Google Scholar
  13. Carmines, E. G., and Zeller, R. A. (1979). Reliability and Validity Assessment. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.Google Scholar
  14. Caspi, A., Bem, D. J., and Elder, G. H. (1989). Continuities and consequences of interactional styles across the life course. J. Personal. 57: 375–406.Google Scholar
  15. Clogg, C. C., Petkova, E., and Haritou, A. (1995). Statistical methods for comparing regression coefficients between models. Am. J. Sociol. 100: 1261–1293.Google Scholar
  16. Cohen, Y., Spirito, A., and Brown, L. K. (1996). Suicide and suicidal behavior. In DiClemente, R. J., Hansen, W. B., and Ponton, L. E. (eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Health and Risk Behavior. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  17. Cohen-Sandler, R., Berman, A. L., and King, R. A. (1982). Life stress and symptomatology: Determinants of suicidal behavior in children. J. Am. Acad. Child Psychiat. 21: 178–186.Google Scholar
  18. Cole, D. A. (1989). Psychopathology of adolescent suicide: Hopelessness, coping beliefs, and depression. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 98: 248–255.Google Scholar
  19. Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., Elder, G. H., Lorenz, F. O., Simons, R. L., and Whitbeck, L. B. (1992). A family process model of economic hardship and adjustment of early adolescent boys. Child Develop. 63: 526–541.Google Scholar
  20. D'Augelli, A. R., and Hershberger, S. L. (1993). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in community settings: Personal challenges and mental health problems. Am. J. Commun. Psychol. 21: 421–448.Google Scholar
  21. DeMan, A. F., and LeDuc, C. P. (1995). Suicidal ideation in high school students: Depression and other correlates. J. Clin. Psychol. 51: 173–181.Google Scholar
  22. DeWilde, E. J., Kienhorst, C. W. M., Diekstra, F. W., and Wolters, H. G. (1992). The relationship between adolescent suicidal behavior and life events in childhood and adolescence. Am. J. Psychiat. 149: 45–49.Google Scholar
  23. Deykin, E. Y., Alpert, J. J., and McNamarra, J. J. (1985). A pilot study of the effect of exposure to child abuse or neglect on adolescent suicidal behavior. Am. J. Psychiat. 142: 1299–1303.Google Scholar
  24. Downey, A. M. (1990/91). The impact of drug abuse upon adolescent suicide. Omega 22: 261–275.Google Scholar
  25. Elder, G. H. (1994). Time, human agency, and social change. Social Psychol. Quart. 57: 4–15.Google Scholar
  26. Elder, G. H. (1995). The life course paradigm. In Moen, P., Elder, G. H., and Lüscher, K. (eds.), Examining Lives in Context. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  27. Elliott, S. N., and Busse, R. T. (1992). Review of the child behavior checklist. In Kramer, J. J., and Conoley, J. C. (eds.), The Eleventh Mental Measurements Yearbook. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.Google Scholar
  28. Feitel, B., Margetson, N., Chamas, J., and Lipman, C. (1992). Psychosocial background and behavioral and emotional disorders of homeless and runaway youth. Hospital Commun. Psychiat. 43: 155–159.Google Scholar
  29. Fergusson, D. M., and Lynskey, M. T. (1995). Suicide attempts and suicidal ideation in a birth cohort of 16-year-old New Zealanders. J. Am. Acad. Child Adoles. Psychiat. 34: 1308–1317.Google Scholar
  30. Friedman, R. C., Corn, R., Hurt, S. W., Fibel, B., Schulick, J., and Swirsky, S. (1984). Family history of illness in the seriously suicidal adolescent. Am. J. Orthopsychiat. 54: 390–397.Google Scholar
  31. Greene, J. M., and Ringwalt, C. L. (1996). Youth and familial substance use's association with suicide attempts among runaway and homeless youth. Substance Use Misuse 31: 1041–1058.Google Scholar
  32. Hagborg, W. J. (1996). Sores of middle-school-age students on the Rosenberg self-esteem scale. Psychol. Rep. 78: 1071–1074.Google Scholar
  33. Hershberger, S. L., and D'Augelli, A. R. (1995). The impact of victimization on the mental health and suicidality of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youths. Develop. Psychol. 31: 65–74.Google Scholar
  34. Holinger, P. C., Offer, D., Barter, J. T., and Bell, C. C. (1994). Suicide and Homicide Among Adolescents. Guilford Press, New York.Google Scholar
  35. Holmbeck, G. N. (1997). Toward terminological, conceptual, and statistical clarity in the study of mediators and moderators. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 65: 599–610.Google Scholar
  36. Kahn, A. U. (1987). Heterogeneity of suicidal adolescents. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiat. 26: 92–96.Google Scholar
  37. Kandel, D. B., Raveis, V. H., and Davies, M. (1991). Suicidal ideation in adolescence: Depression, substance use and other risk factors. J. Youth Adolesc. 20: 289–309.Google Scholar
  38. Kienhorst, C. W. M., DeWilde, E. J., Van Den Bout, J., Diekstra, F. W., and Wolters, H. G. (1990). Characteristics of suicide attempters in a population-based sample of Dutch adolescents. Br. J. Psychiat. 156: 243–248.Google Scholar
  39. King, C. A. (1997). Suicidal behavior in adolescence. In Maris, R. W., Silverman, M. M., and Canetto, S. S. (eds.), Review of Suicidology, 1997. The Guilford Press, New York.Google Scholar
  40. Kurtz, P. D., Kurtz, G. L., and Jarvis, S. V. (1991). Problems of maltreated runaway youth. Adolescence 26: 543–555.Google Scholar
  41. Lorenz, F. O., Conger, R. D., Montague, R. B., and Wickrama, K. A. S. (1993). Economic conditions, spouse support, and psychological distress of rural husbands and wives. Rural Sociol. 58: 247–268.Google Scholar
  42. Marks, P. A., and Haller, D. L. (1977). Now I lay me down for keeps: A study of adolescent suicide attempts. J. Clin. Psychol. 33: 390–399.Google Scholar
  43. Neiger, B. L., and Hopkins, R. W. (1988). Adolescent suicide: Character traits of high-risk teenagers. Adolescence 23: 469–475.Google Scholar
  44. Overholser, J. C., Adams, D. M., Lehnert, K. L., and Brinkman, D. C. (1995). Self-esteem deficits and suicidal tendencies among adolescents. J. Am. Acad. Child Adoles. Psychiat. 34: 919–928.Google Scholar
  45. Overholser, J., Evans, S., and Spirito, A. (1990). Sex differences and their relevance to primary prevention of adolescent suicide. Death Studies 14: 391–402.Google Scholar
  46. Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Appl. Psychol. Measure. 1: 385–401.Google Scholar
  47. Radloff, L. S. (1991). The use of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies depression scale in adolescents and young adults. J. Youth Adolesc. 20: 149–165.Google Scholar
  48. Rainer, J. D. (1984). Genetic factors in depression and suicide. Am. J. Psychother. 38: 329–340.Google Scholar
  49. Reifman, A., and Windle, M. (1995). Adolescent suicidal behaviors as a function of depression, hopelessness, alcohol use, and social support: A longitudinal investigation. Am. J. Commun. Psychol. 23: 329–354.Google Scholar
  50. Roberts, R. E., and Vernon, S. W. (1983). The Center for Epidemiologic Studies depression scale: Its use in a community sample. Am. J. Psychiat. 140: 41–46.Google Scholar
  51. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the Adolescent Self-Image. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.Google Scholar
  52. Rotheram-Borus, M. J. (1993). Suicidal behavior and risk factors among runaway youths. Am. J. Psychiat. 150: 103–107.Google Scholar
  53. Rudd, M. D., Joiner, T., and Rajab, M. H. (1996). relationships among suicide ideators, attempters, and multiple attempters in a young-adult sample. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 105: 541–550.Google Scholar
  54. Rutter, M., and Garmezy, N. (1983). Developmental psychopathology. In Heatherington, E. M. (vol. ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology (Vol. 4, 4th ed.). Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  55. Savin-Williams, R. C. (1994). Verbal or physical abuse as stressors in the lives of lesbian, gay male, and bisexual youths. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 62: 261–269.Google Scholar
  56. Schafer, J. (1996). Measuring spousal violence with the conflict tactics scale: Notes on reliability and validity issues. J. Interpersonal Violence 1: 572–585.Google Scholar
  57. Shaffer, D., and Caton, C. (1984). Runaway and Homeless Youth in New York City. Ittleson Foundation, New York.Google Scholar
  58. Shagle, S. C., and Barber, B. K. (1993). Effects of family, marital, and parent-child conflict on adolescent self-derogation and suicide ideation. J. Marriage Family 55: 964–974.Google Scholar
  59. Skinner, M. L., Elder, G. H., and Conger, R. D. (1992). Linking economic hardship to adolescent aggression. J. Youth Adolesc. 21: 259–276.Google Scholar
  60. Smith, K., and Crawford, S. (1986). Suicidal behavior among “normal” high school students. Suicide Life-Threat Behav. 16: 313–325.Google Scholar
  61. Spirito, A., Brown, L., Overholser, J., and Fritz, G. (1989). Attempted suicide in adolescence: A review and critique of the literature. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 9: 335–363.Google Scholar
  62. Stiffman, A. R. (1989). Suicide attempts in runaway youths. Suicide Life-Threat. Behav. 19: 147–159.Google Scholar
  63. Straus, M. A. (1979). Measuring intrafamily conflict and violence: The conflict tactics (CT) scales. J. Marriage Family 41: 75–88.Google Scholar
  64. Straus, M. A. (1990). The conflict tactics scales and its critics: An evaluation and new data on validity and reliability. In Straus, M. A., and Gelles, R. J. (eds.), Physical Violence in American Families. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ.Google Scholar
  65. Vannatta, R. A. (1996). Risk factors related to suicidal behavior among male and female adolescents. J. Youth Adolesc. 25: 149–160.Google Scholar
  66. Wagner, B. M. (1997). Family risk factors for child and adolescent suicidal behavior. Psychol. Bull 121: 246–298.Google Scholar
  67. Wagner, B. M., Cole, R. E., and Schwartzman, P. (1996). Comorbidity of symptoms among junior and senior high school suicide attempters. Suicide Life-Threat. Behav. 26: 300–307.Google Scholar
  68. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., and Ackley, K. A. (1997). Abusive family backgrounds and later victimization among homeless and runaway adolescents. J. Res. Adolesc. 7: 375–392.Google Scholar
  69. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., and Huck, S. M. (1993). Family relationship history, contemporary parent-grandparent relationship quality, and the grandparent-grandchild relationship. J. Marriage Family 55: 1025–1035.Google Scholar
  70. Whitbeck, L. B., and Simons, R. L. (1990). Life on the streets: The victimization of runaway and homeless adolescents. Youth Society, 22: 108–125.Google Scholar
  71. Whitbeck, L. B., and Simons, R. L. (1993). A comparison of adaptive strategies and patterns of victimization among homeless adolescents and adults. Viol. Victims 8: 135–154.Google Scholar
  72. Yang, B., and Clum, G. A. (1996). Effects of early negative life experiences on cognitive functioning and risk for suicide: A review. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 16: 177–195.Google Scholar
  73. Yates, G. L., MacKenzie, R., Pennbridge, J., and Cohen, E. (1988). A risk profile comparison of runaway and non-runaway youth. Am. J. Public Health 78: 820–821.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin A. Yoder
    • 1
  • Dan R. Hoyt
    • 2
  • Les B. Whitbeck
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyIowa State University, Center for Family Research on Rural Mental HealthAmes
  2. 2.Department of SociologyIowa State UniversityAmes
  3. 3.Department of SociologyIowa State UniversityAmes

Personalised recommendations