Clinical and Psychosocial Characteristics of Young Children With Suicidal Ideation, Behaviors, and Nonsuicidal Self-Injurious Behaviors

Joan L. Luby, Diana Whalen, Rebecca Tillman, Deanna M. Barch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Objective: Based on previous findings that suicidal ideation (SI) and behavior (SB) arose in depressed preschoolers and showed stability into school age, we sought to investigate whether unique clinical and psychosocial correlates of SI/SB and nonsuicidal self-injurious behaviors (NSSI) could be identified in young children recuited into a depression treatment study and healthy controls. Method: Data from 288 children 3.0 to 6.11 years of age who were recruited for participation in a psychotherapy treatment study of depression and 26 healthy control subjects (total N = 314) were used. At baseline, subjects received a comprehensive assessment of psychopathology and suicidal ideation/suicidal behavior. Multinominal logistic regressions were conducted comparing those with no SI/SB/NSSI to those with SI/SB or NSSI. Those with SI/SB who also had NSSI were placed in the SI/SB group. Results: In this sample of young children, the rates of NSSI, SI, and SB were 21.3%, 19.1%, and 3.5% respectively. Children with SI/SB or NSSI experienced a greater frequency of violent life events than children with no SI/SB/NSSI. Children with SI/SB had significantly more preoccupation with death compared to subjects with NSSI and subjects with no SI/SB/NSSI. Children with SI/SB had more vegetative signs of depression and greater depression severity, and those with NSSI were more irritable with higher depression severity than those with no SI/SB/NSSI. Conclusion: Distinct characteristics of SI/SB and NSSI in early childhood were identified, informing high risk subgroups. Findings suggest that clinicians should be aware of the potential for SI/SB and/or NSSI in young children and should directly address these symptoms in clinical interviews. Clinical trial registration information: A Randomized Controlled Trial of PCIT-ED for Preschool Depression.; NCT02076425.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-127
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • depression
  • risk
  • suicidality
  • young children


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