Year: 2023 Source: Journal of Affective Disorders. (2023). 339, 318-324. DOI: SIEC No: 20231716

Background: Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs) in elementary school-aged youth have increased in recent years. Understanding the risks associated with childhood STBs is necessary for prevention efforts.

Methods: The current study examined clinical and neurocognitive characteristics of a community sample of elementary school-aged children with (STB+) and without (STB-) a history of STBs. The final sample included 93 families with children average age of 7.8 years (SD = 1.3). Children in this sample were racially diverse, evenly split by sex, and most identified as non-Hispanic. Neurocognitive functioning was assessed using computerized behavioral measures. Child clinical characteristics were assessed using self-report measures and STB history was assessed using semi-structured interviews.

Results: Of the 93 families, 64 STB- children and 29 STB+ children participated. On average, STB+ children were older, reported higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms, and were more likely to have a parental history of suicidal behavior (PH+). Regarding neurocognitive functioning, STB+ children exhibited lower raw scores for both the NIH Dimensional Change Card Sort Task (NIH-DCCS) and NIH Flanker Inhibitory Control and Attention Test (NIH-Flanker). Multivariable regression analyses revealed raw scores for NIH-DCCS and NIH-Flanker, PH+ status, and child age were associated with childhood STBs.

Limitations: Prospective data is needed to confirm cross-sectional findings.

Conclusions: Poorer neurocognitive functioning and PH+ status may serve as risk markers for STBs in elementary school-aged children. Targeting prevention programming for these risks may reduce the likelihood of STBs in at-risk elementary school-aged youth.