Suicidal ideation and behavior in institutions of higher learning: A latent class analysis

Joel Bernanke, Hanga C. Galfalvy, Maggie G. Mortali, Laura A. Hoffman, Christine Moutier, Charles B. Nemeroff, Barbara H. Stanley, Paula Clayton, Jill Harkavy-Friedman, Maria A. Oquendo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among undergraduate students, with an annual rate of 7.5 per 100,000. Suicidal behavior (SB) is complex and heterogeneous, which might be explained by there being multiple etiologies of SB. Data-driven identification of distinct at-risk subgroups among undergraduates would bolster this argument. We conducted a latent class analysis (LCA) on survey data from a large convenience sample of undergraduates to identify subgroups, and validated the resulting latent class model on a sample of graduate students. Data were collected through the Interactive Screening Program deployed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. LCA identified 6 subgroups from the undergraduate sample (N = 5654). In the group with the most students reporting current suicidal thoughts (N = 623, 66% suicidal), 22.5% reported a prior suicide attempt, and 97.6% endorsed moderately severe or worse depressive symptoms. Notably, LCA identified a second at-risk group (N = 662, 27% suicidal), in which only 1.5% of respondents noted moderately severe or worse depressive symptoms. When graduate students (N = 1138) were classified using the model, a similar frequency distribution of groups was found. Finding multiple replicable groups at-risk for suicidal behavior, each with a distinct prevalence of risk factors, including a group of students who would not be classified as high risk with depression-based screening, is consistent with previous studies that identified multiple potential etiologies of SB.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-259
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Adolescent behavior
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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