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Social Isolation in Adolescence Increases Risk of Suicidal Thoughts

Suicide is a leading cause of death in young people and a major concern in modern day life. A large scale study performed in Japan among 12-18 year-olds showed that adolescents who prefer social isolation are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and engage in self-harm.


In developed countries suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people. This problem is prevalent in Japan where suicide accounts for 8.5% of deaths in young individuals, making it the second leading cause. Preference for social isolation has been shown in previous studies as a sign of progress in adolescent development. On the contrary, it has been suggested that the social isolation may be linked to depression and negative thoughts in young people. The association between social isolation and suicidal thoughts and self-harm among young people is not well studied.

Recently, an article published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported on how preference for solitude and social isolation influences the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and self-harm among adolescents. The study was conducted between 2008 and 2009 among junior and senior high school students in two different cities in Japan. 47 junior and 30 senior high schools participated and a total of 18,250 students between 12- 18 years old were enrolled. They were given a self-report questionnaire during the school hours. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions were asked to identify the students with preference for solitude, social isolation, suicidal ideation and self-harm. The questionnaire consisted of questions about whether they prefer to be alone rather than with someone, how many people they can consult if they are worried, if they thought their lives are not worth living and if they have intentionally hurt themselves in the past year. Statistical analyses were performed to test for associations among preference for solitude, social isolation, and suicidal ideation and self-harm.

Preference for solitude was associated with increased odds of suicidal ideation or self-harm.  Addition of demographic factors did not affect the statistical significance of the association. The stronger the preference for solitude in the students, the more suicidal ideation they experienced. The study also showed that the students who preferred solitude experienced more social isolation. The group of students who preferred solitude and also experienced social isolation had greater risk of suicidal ideation or self-harm compared to the students who did not prefer solitude or experience social isolation. This research highlights the importance of engaging with adolescents who prefer solitude or are socially isolated. Timely involvement of the parents and professionals may decrease the risk of suicide in individuals who have a preference for solitude and resultant social isolation.


Written By: Mandira Manandhar, PhD

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