April 6, 2009 / 8:28 PM / 10 years ago

Many suicidal men had problems in childhood: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Teenage and young adult men who make serious suicide attempts often had emotional problems at age 8, while most suicidal women succumb to depressions that develop after puberty, Finnish researchers said on Monday.

A high school student (L) walks towards a group of female students chatting in front of a school in Tokyo November 9, 2006. REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

Nearly four out of five suicidal men tracked in a study in Finland had exhibited problems as 8-year-olds that were evident to their teachers or parents.

“Most males who commit suicide or need hospital care after a suicide attempt have high levels of psychiatric problems at the age of 8 years,” wrote Dr. Andre Sourander of Turku University Hospital in Finland and colleagues.

“The main finding of our study is that severe suicidality in adolescence and early adulthood has different childhood trajectories among males and females,” they wrote in a report published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study tracked 5,302 people born in 1981, of whom 27 men and 27 women made serious suicide attempts by age 24. Of those, 13 men and two women died.

According to the World Health Organization, 877,000 people worldwide kill themselves each year. For every suicide death, anywhere from 10 to 40 attempts are made, the U.N. agency estimates.

Males tended to use “more lethal” methods, while female suicide attempts were mostly by intoxication or poisoning, according to the Finnish study.

In what they termed a “pathway of persistence,” 78 percent of the suicidal males had displayed bad conduct at age 8 such as disruptive fits of temper, disobedience, aggression or cruelty toward others, destroying of property, stealing, lying, inattention or hyperactivity.

No such pattern was seen for the girls. Sourander’s team said previous research has shown “female suicide attempts are often used to communicate distress or to modify the behavior and reactions of others.” Most mood disorders affect girls after puberty, they added.

They urged effective screening to detect and treat childhood disorders, in the hope of reducing suicide rates.

“This focus is particularly important among males with severe conduct problems because, during adolescence, they usually do not seek mental health services,” Sourander wrote.

Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Maggie Fox

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