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BACKGROUND: A greater understanding of the pathways which lead young people to take their lives is important in ensuring that prevention strategies and health service delivery are as effective as possible. In this study we examined the duration, development and characteristics of the suicidal process in young people who ultimately died by suicide. METHODS: Life charts of psychological autopsy information from multiple informants were used to identify the suicidal process among 27 young people who died by suicide. RESULTS: Life charts were generated for 27 young people who died by suicide, of whom 93% (n=25) were male, with an average age at death of 20.9 years (SD=2.4). Three types of suicidal process were identified: Group I characterised by longstanding difficulties which spanned the developmental domains of home, school and peers. The suicidal process was longstanding, and included deliberate self-harm prior to their death and direct communication to friends and family about suicidal ideas and plans. The second group was characterised by evidence of an established psychiatric disorder. Two subgroups were identified, namely those individuals with a protracted suicidal process which lasted approximately 5-9 years, and those with a brief suicidal process lasting approximately one year. The third and smallest group was characterised by the emergence of the suicidal process as an acute response to life events among young people who appeared to have previously been functioning well, without apparent mental illness or known self-harm. However, two out of five in this group communicated specific suicidal intent in the weeks before their death. CONCLUSIONS: The suicidal process may emerge and disappear in the lives of young people. Repeated episodes of self-cutting by young men, against a backdrop of substance abuse, relationship difficulties, and mental health problems require further clinical attention.

Original publication




Journal article


J Affect Disord

Publication Date





199 - 210


Adolescent, Adult, Demography, Female, Humans, Life Change Events, Male, Prevalence, Risk Factors, Suicide