Psychiatry Research Updates: Link Between Social Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts

social anxiety in teens and suicidal thoughtsLink Between Social Anxiety and Suicidal Ideation

The teen years are known as a time of increased suicide risk. Associated factors such as depression, social support, and anxiety were recently studied to understand their relationship to ideation, planning, and suicide attempts.

Researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined how social anxiety is related to risk of suicidal ideation. A group of 144 teens, 12 to 15 years old, were assessed using a number of standard instruments during inpatient psychiatric hospitalization and again nine and 18 months later for suicidal ideation and social anxiety.

They were also assessed for symptoms of two potentially-related mediators: loneliness and perceived social support. The majority of the teens were white, and 72% were female. Household makeup was split: 42% lived in a two-parent household; 29% lived with only their biological mother, and the remaining 29% lived with a biological father only, with extended family, or were in temporary foster care.

The exact reasons for the teens’ hospitalizations were not clear, but they were all related to standard “imminent danger of harm to self or others.” Baseline diagnoses included depression (31.3%), oppositional defiant disorder (25.7%), conduct disorder (17.4%), PTSD (13.2%), social phobia (12.5%), and GAD (6.3%).

Both suicidal and nonsuicidal teens were included in the sample: 48% said they had attempted suicide in the previous year.

Higher levels of suicidal ideation were found at 18 months post-baseline among participants with social anxiety diagnosis at baseline in comparison to those without social anxiety diagnoses, even when accounting for depression and baseline suicidal ideation.

Researchers also found that social anxiety at baseline was related to feelings of loneliness at both follow-ups.

Among those who had both social anxiety at baseline and increased loneliness at nine months, there was higher risk of suicidal ideation at 18 months. Feelings of low social support were not associated with increased suicidal ideation (Gallagher M et al, J Abnorm Child Psychol 2014;online ahead of print).

CCPR’s Take: By using psychiatric inpatients as the sample, researchers were able to see the longitudinal course of suicidal ideation in a group that was already at a heightened risk. With the knowledge that social anxiety and its associated loneliness increases the risk of suicidal ideation, child and adolescent psychiatrists can more effectively screen these teens for suicidality, especially in the period following inpatient hospitalization. This study also shed light on the power of feelings of loneliness in both social anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Psychiatry Research Updates: Link Between Social Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts

This article originally appeared in:

The Carlat Psychiatry Report
Click on the image to learn more or subscribe today!

This article was published in print April 2014 in Volume:Issue 5:2.

The Carlat Psychiatry Report

Carlat Publishing provides clear, authoritative, engaging, independent psychiatric education to make you look forward to learning, with the goal of helping you feel smarter, more competent, and more confident in your ability to help your patients become happy. We receive no corporate funding, which allows a clear-eyed evaluation of all available treatments. Learn more and subscribe to one of their newsletters here.


APA Reference
Psychiatry Report, T. (2016). Psychiatry Research Updates: Link Between Social Anxiety and Suicidal Thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 28, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Jul 2016
Published on All rights reserved.