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Ziker and Snopkowski explore developmental, enviro correlations to suicidal thoughts in teens

Portrait of John Ziker
John Ziker

John Ziker, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, and Kristin Snopkowski, an associate professor of anthropology, published an open-access article in Evolutionary Psychology titled “Life-History Factors Influence Teenagers’ Suicidal Ideation: A Model Selection Analysis of the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth.

While most suicide research focuses on individual psychological variables, this study examines the developmental and environmental correlates of reported suicidal ideation at age 15 using a longitudinal study conducted by Statistics Canada from 1994-2008.

The authors propose that in certain socioecological conditions, individuals develop costly, but adaptive strategies, which result in more ‘present orientated’ behaviors, characterized by more vigilance, impulsivity and greater future discounting. They hypothesize that this adaptive response occurs regardless of the potential for self-harm and threats to well being and is associated with greater suicidal ideation.

Kristin Snopkowski
Kristin Snopkowski

The authors examine social support, environmental harshness (a proxy of extrinsic mortality risk) and unpredictability (measured as change in environment), prenatal factors, and early life psychosocial stress to determine whether these factors are associated with suicidal ideation in adolescence.

Results show that greater neighborhood cohesion and social support sources during childhood are associated with a reduction in odds of experiencing suicidal thoughts at age 14-15. Mother’s prenatal smoking throughout pregnancy is associated with greater odds of suicidal thoughts at adolescence.

Those reporting consistent early-life psychosocial stress have greater odds of reporting thoughts of suicide at age 14-15.

This paper demonstrates the importance of considering social and environmental conditions when considering programs and policies aimed at promoting better mental and behavioral health.

The paper is part of a project on intergenerational transmission of stress triggers supported by a 2016 Fulbright Canada and Palix Foundation U.S. scholar grant to John Ziker.