Adolescents with Suicidal Ideation Show Some Evidence of Superior Cognitive Function

Published on in CHOP News

A new study out of the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania finds adolescents with suicidal ideation show better neurocognitive performance than recently believed. Previously, doctors and researchers thought higher intelligence may have shielded teens from suicidal thoughts.

The findings were published online on March 28 in The British Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers looked at more than 6,000 adolescents aged 11-21 and found almost 11 percent of participants had previously thought of killing themselves (i.e., reported suicidal ideation). Suicide ideation was associated with other psychiatric symptoms and with impaired functioning, as expected. Yet somewhat surprisingly, suicide ideation was also associated with better cognitive performance, especially in post-pubertal male teens.

Ran Barzilay, MD, PhD, lead author and child and adolescent psychiatrist and research scientist at LiBI, suggests parents should take the findings in the right context. “We don’t want parents to think, ‘my child is smart; therefore, he is at higher risk of suicide.’ Instead, we want people to understand that anyone can be at risk, regardless of their IQ.”

Suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death in adolescents age 10 to 24.