Globally, rates of youth suicide vary considerably. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STB) are consistently associated with risk of death by suicide. However, international trends in STB have not yet been compared. To address this gap, an international meta-analysis of epidemiological and school-based studies that report on STB in youth was conducted.
Systematic searches were conducted in PubMed and PsycINFO through April 2022. Eligible studies included prevalence of active suicidal ideation (SI) or suicide attempts (SA) in community youth younger than age 22.
There were 376 effect sizes for SI, 96 for SI with a plan, and 321 for SA, representing 149 regions. Year of data collection ranged from 1981 to 2021. Participants were 6 to 21 years old. The prevalence of SI ranged across regions from 14.3% to 22.6%; the prevalence of SA ranged from 4.6% to 16.9%. Year was not associated with increasing STB prevalence except for studies from the United States, which showed increasing rates of SI and SA since 2007.
This is the most comprehensive meta-analysis of STB in youth, providing valuable data about how risk factors most commonly associated with suicide vary internationally and over time. International rates of STB among youth are not improving and may be getting worse in the United States, despite efforts to reduce suicide risk. Most studies did not report rates of SI or SA separately for LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and others) youth and youth of color. A better understanding of proximal risk at the individual level will be important to informing future prevention efforts, especially for high-risk groups.