Trajectories of Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors From Preschool Through Late Adolescence

Diana J. Whalen, Laura Hennefield, Nourhan M. Elsayed, Rebecca Tillman, Deanna M. Barch, Joan L. Luby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Objective: Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs) represent a significant and escalating public health concern in youth. Evidence that STBs can emerge in the preschool years suggests that some pathways leading to clinically significant STBs begin early in life. Method: This prospective longitudinal study examined the developmental trajectories of STBs in children from ages 3 to 17, oversampled for preschool-onset depression. Results: Three unique trajectories of STBs across childhood and adolescence were identified: low class (n = 273) characterized by low rates of STBs, early-persistent class (n = 21) characterized by steadily increasing STBs, and late-onset class (n = 21) characterized by low rates of STBs through age 10 followed by a dramatic increase from ages 11 to 14 years. Preschool measures of depression symptoms, externalizing symptoms, impulsivity, and lower income relative to needs were associated with both high-risk STB classes. Both high-risk STB classes reported greater functional impairment, more externalizing symptoms, and more cumulative stressful life events in adolescence relative to the low class; the late-onset class also reported poorer academic functioning relative to both the early-persistent and low classes. Conclusion: A significant minority of this prospectively followed group of preschool children evidenced STBs by and/or after age 10. Although relatively rare before age 10, approximately half of the children who experienced STBs in adolescence first exhibited STBs in early childhood and comprised a trajectory suggesting increasing STBs. In contrast, approximately half of children first exhibited STBs in early adolescence. Early screening and identification of at-risk youth during both preschool and late childhood is important for early intervention regarding STBs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)676-685
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022


  • longitudinal
  • preschool
  • suicidal ideation
  • suicide behavior
  • youth


Dive into the research topics of 'Trajectories of Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors From Preschool Through Late Adolescence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this