Suicide tends to concentrate in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and neighborhood disadvantage is associated with many important risk factors for youth suicide. However, no study has directly investigated the link between neighborhood poverty and youth suicidal behaviors, while controlling for pre-existing vulnerabilities. The objective of this study was to determine whether living in a poor neighborhood is associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts in late adolescence over and above background vulnerabilities, and whether this association can be explained by late-adolescence psychosocial risks: depression, social support, negative life events (NLEs), delinquent activities, substance abuse and exposure to suicide. The potential moderating role of neighborhood poverty was also examined.
A subset of 2776 participants was selected from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). Late-adolescence suicidal behaviors and risk factors were self-reported. The 2001 Canadian Census was used to characterize neighborhoods during early and middle adolescence. Late-childhood family and individual controls were assessed through parent-report.
At the bivariate level, the odds of reporting suicidal thoughts were about twice as high in poor than non-poor neighborhoods, and the odds of attempting suicide were about four times higher. After controlling for background vulnerabilities, neighborhood poverty remained significantly associated with both suicidal thoughts and attempts. However, these associations were not explained by late-adolescence psychosocial risks. Rather, youth living in poor neighborhoods may be at greater risk through the amplification of other risk factors in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Potential explanations for the increased vulnerability of youth living in poor neighborhoods are discussed.