Chronic medical conditions and suicidal behaviors in a nationally representative sample of American adolescents

  • Anthony Dean-Boucher
  • Christina L. Robillard
  • Brianna J. TurnerEmail author
Original Paper



Chronic medical conditions are a risk factor for the onset of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adults. However, few studies have examined this association in adolescents. The present study explored the association between chronic medical conditions and the emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in an adolescent sample representative of the U.S.A. population.


Using data from the National Comorbidity Survey—Adolescent Supplement (10,148 Americans between ages 13–17), discrete-time survival analyses were performed to examine the odds of developing suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts, given prior presence of a chronic medical condition. Multivariate models controlled for sociodemographic factors and the presence of comorbid mental health conditions. Post-hoc sensitivity analyses examined associations between timing of chronic medical condition onset and later suicidal thoughts and behaviors.


Multivariate analyses showed that dermatological conditions, asthma, allergies, headache, and back/neck pain were associated with elevated odds of suicidal ideation, while cardiovascular conditions were associated with increased odds of suicide attempts. Additionally, cardiovascular conditions were associated with increased risk of suicide planning and attempts among adolescents with suicidal ideation. Chronic medical conditions that began in adolescence were associated with the greatest risk of later suicidal thoughts and behaviors, compared to chronic medical conditions that began in early or middle childhood.


Consistent with research in middle and older adults, physical health conditions are associated with increased risk for the onset of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adolescents. Mental health screening for adolescents with chronic medical conditions may help parents and physicians identify suicidality early.


Adolescent health Chronic physical conditions Mental health Suicidal ideation United States 



The National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH; U01-MH60220) with supplemental support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF; Grant 044,780), and the John W. Alden Trust. The work of the authors (Dean-Boucher, Robillard, and Turner) was not supported by any additional funding source. The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and should not be construed to represent the views of any of the sponsoring organizations, agencies, or U.S. Government.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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