Psychopathy and suicide in youth prisons
A recent study (Heirings et al., 2019) has subjected 723 young inmates to the Missouri State Division of Youth Services (DYS) to an investigation into the relationship between the personological traits of psychopathy and suicide.
Among the causes of death for US teenagers, suicide is second only to motor vehicle accidents (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). If the data on suicide risk is true for the youth population in general, this is even more pronounced within the circle of juvenile delinquency, becoming the first cause of death among young prisoners (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2017) .
An explanation for the high suicide rate among young people with tendencies to carry out criminal conduct lies in the presence of psychopathologies, often also linked to the use of drugs. Among the personological aspects, the link that psychopathy has with suicidal risk is controversial: on the one hand, deficits in understanding emotions, the absence of reaction to stressful / anxiety-provoking stimuli and limited empathy would seem to have a protective role against suicidal attitude; on the other hand, impulsiveness, anger, the desire for manipulation and exploitation of the other would seem to constitute a risk factor (Boduszeket al., 2016; Perez et al., 2016; Shagufta et al., 2015).
Nonetheless, most of the scientific literature has focused on the topic above all by investigating the aspect from the point of view of the adult population.
To shed light on the issue among adolescents, a recent study (Heirings et al., 2019) has subjected 723 young inmates to the Missouri State Division of Youth Services (DYS) to a survey on the relationship between psychopathic personological traits and suicide .
Suicidal ideation was measured using the Traumatic Experience subscale of the Massachusetts Youth Screening Inventory (MAYSI-2; Grisso et al., 2001); suicide attempts – if any – were directly indicated by the participants through a self-report (25.5% of them had actually attempted suicide).
The Psychopathic Personality Inventory – Short Form (PPI-SF; Lilienfeld & Hess, 2001) was used to measure psychopathic traits.
From the results it was found that psychopathy proved to be a risk factor for both suicidal ideation and suicide attempts – although the latter association proved less robust when the results were moderate, including the diagnosis of depression and the use of antidepressants. Furthermore, while some characteristics related to affectivity – such as emotional flattening and the absence of reaction to stressful / anxiety-provoking stimuli seem to have a protective role against suicide, other behavioral and lifestyle components – including impulsivity , audacity, anti-conformism, blaming others – have been found positively associated with suicidal ideation.
These results are consistent with those highlighted in the literature so far: psychopathy would seem in fact a personological dimension determined by the presence of two distinct psychopathological aspects where, to a colder and anaffective dimension, a second more impulsive and destructive corresponds: while the latter component would be associated with a higher suicidal risk, the first would seem to ensure a protective role (Boduszeket al., 2016; Perez et al., 2016; Shagufta et al., 2015).
The results of this research are useful not only to confirm the presence of a personological bifactoriality in psychopathy towards the propensity to commit suicide in a young population, but also for professionals who treat or supervise young people in detention and placement centers residential, where suicide is the main cause of death.