Background: Over the past decades, suicidal behaviour has increased among adolescents. We wanted to explore what characterises adolescents who come in to see a general practitioner prior to a suicide attempt.
Material and method: 87 % of a group of adolescents below the age of 20 (N = 92) who were admitted to hospital after attempted suicide were interviewed and compared to a non-suicidal control group.
Results: 41 out of the 92 saw a doctor within six weeks prior to the attempt; 27 presented with purely physical problems, 6 with psychological problems and eight with a combination of both. Only 2 brought up suicidal thoughts with their doctors. Those who saw a doctor prior to the suicide attempt were older and more frequently had eating disorders than those who did not. No other significant differences were found. Compared to the control group, suicidal adolescents who came in to see a general practitioner more often reported divorced parents, fewer siblings, little support from family and peers, having sex at an early age, frequent use of tobacco and illegal drugs, low self-esteem, loneliness and depressive symptoms (p < 0.01).
Interpretation: Adolescents who saw a doctor prior to a suicide attempt differed significantly from the non-suicidal controls. General practitioners need to have extensive knowledge about risk factors in order to recognise suicidal adolescents. Active inquiry about psychosocial problems, psychopathology and suicidal ideation is necessary.