Methods: Youth in a regional long-term detention center were administered a health behaviors survey during a regular morning class period. Cross-sectional study design was used for the sample of 104 female juvenile detainees, aged 12 to 20, in 7th to 12th grade. Health risk behaviors assessed included substance use behaviors (smoking, consuming alcohol, use of marijuana, cocaine, and meth), sexual behaviors (number of sexual partners and use of condom), weapon carriage, gang involvement, physical fights, eating habits, and physical inactivity. Logistic regression analysis was used to assess the association between health risk behaviors and suicidal ideation and attempt.
Results: The analysis revealed that both suicidal ideation and attempts were highly prevalent (40% suicide ideation and 54% suicide attempts) among female juvenile detainees. For suicidal ideation, two out of the 12 health risk behaviors, number of sexual partners and physical fights, were included in the final model (X2=9.69, df=2, p=.008). Odds ratio for sexual partners was 1.33 (CI=1.01, 1.27) and physical fights was 1.13 (CI=1.03, 1.72), indicating both have positive relationships with suicidal ideation. In other words, the more sexual partners the female youth has, the more likely she has suicidal ideation; and the more physical fights she is involved in, the more likely she has suicidal ideation. Pseudo R-square indicated that these two variables explain 14.5% in suicidal ideation in the sample. However, none of the health risk behaviors were significantly associated with the suicidal attempts reported.
Conclusion: The study findings revealed that the prevalence of suicidal ideation and attempts were extremely high among the female adolescent detainee sample. The prevalence rate of suicide ideation and attempts were by far the highest among the few studies that have been conducted with juvenile detainee samples, not to mention the rates with the general youth populations. Given the significance of the relationship of suicide ideation with violence exposure and sexual health risk behaviors, detention facilities should consider these factors when developing crisis management programming and suicidal prevention policies. Additionally, services for at-risk adolescent females should include strategies for health promotion and continuity of care once released. Further research is needed to examine what other risk factors may be associated with suicidal ideation and attempts among juvenile detainee populations to consider additional health promotion approaches to deter incarcerated youth from fatal self-harm activities.