• Vol. 41 No. 9, 377–382
  • 15 September 2012

Suicidal Ideation in Medical Students: Who Is at Risk?

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ABSTRACT

Introduction: Suicide is one of the most tragic problems medical schools are facing today. It is an issue that has not escaped medical schools in either developing or developed nations. To combat this trend, medical educators require efficient and effective strategies for the immediate identification of students who are at an elevated risk of harming themselves.

Materials and Methods: National Yang Ming University medical students were surveyed on various demographic, academic, personal, and extracurricular subjects as well as assessed for suicidal ideation. In addition, students completed the Chinese Health Questionnaire (CHQ, a translated and modified version of the General Health Questionnaire, GHQ), and the Taiwanese Depression Questionnaire (TDQ, a translated and modified version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies’ Depression Scale, CES-D).

Results: The rate of suicidal ideation was significantly higher in second year students as opposed to first year students (P <0.01). Students of lower socioeconomic status (P = 0.04), with non-inflammatory joint pain (P = 0.02), with headache (P = 0.047), with sleep disorders (P = 0.04), who scored as depressed on the TDQ (P <0.01), and/or who scored abnormally on the CHQ (P <0.01) were all significantly more likely to have experienced suicidal ideation.

Conclusion: A number of groups at high risk for suicidal ideation, and thus in greater need of support, were identified. Suicide intervention programmes and depression counselling should target older students and students of lower socioeconomic status. Students presenting to university clinics with non-inflammatory joint pain, headache, and/or sleep disorders should be evaluated for suicidal tendencies. The TDQ and CHQ are potentially valuable screening tests for early detection of potential suicidal students.


It has long been acknowledged that medical students are at a greater risk for depression, but their elevated risk for suicide is particularly alarming. Despite general agreement that an elevated risk does exist, previous studies have not been able to consistently quantify or qualify that risk. One study determined that the cross-sectional prevalence of students who have attempted suicide was 2.7%, while another quoted 1.4%. Other studies have instead looked at suicidal ideation in medical students and have found quite a spectrum of rates, ranging from 6.0% to 43.0%.

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