Depression is one of the most prevalent and disabling mental health conditions among young people worldwide. The health and economic burdens associated with depressive illness are substantial. Suicide and depression are closely intertwined, yet a diagnosis of depression itself lacks predictive specificity for suicidal behaviour. To better inform suicide prevention and early intervention strategies for young people, improved identification of modifiable intervention targets is needed. The objective of this review was to identify clinical, psychosocial and biological correlates of suicidality in young people diagnosed with a broad range of unipolar and bipolar depressive disorders.
Systematic searches were conducted across MEDLINE, Embase and PsycINFO to identify studies of young people aged 15–25 years diagnosed with unipolar or bipolar depressive disorders. An assessment of suicidality was required for inclusion. Reporting followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses 2020 and Synthesis Without Meta-analysis guidelines.
We integrated findings from 71 studies including approximately 24,670 young people with clinically diagnosed depression. We identified 26 clinical, psychosocial and biological correlates of suicidality. Depression characteristics (type and severity), psychiatric comorbidity (particularly anxiety and substance use disorders) and neurological characteristics emerged as having the most evidence for being associated with suicidal outcomes. Our ability to pool data and conduct meaningful quantitative synthesis was hampered by substantial heterogeneity across studies and incomplete reporting; thus, meta-analysis was not possible.
Findings of this review reinforce the notion that suicidality is a complex phenomenon arising from the interplay of multiple contributing factors. Our findings question the utility of considering a diagnosis of depression as a specific risk factor for suicidality in young people. Suicidality itself is transdiagnostic; adoption of a transdiagnostic approach to investigating its aetiology and treatment is perhaps warranted. Future research investigating specific symptoms, or symptom networks, might help to further our understanding of suicidality among young people experiencing mental illness.