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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1999 Sep;38(9):1125-31.

Do adolescents who take overdoses have specific psychological characteristics? A comparative study with psychiatric and community controls.

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Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, East Herts NHS Trust, England.



To determine whether specific psychological factors characterize adolescents who take overdoses.


Measures of problem-solving, depression, anger, impulsivity, and self-esteem were investigated in 33 adolescents after an overdose, 30 psychiatric controls, and 30 community controls, the groups being matched for age and sex. All subjects were interviewed twice, 6 weeks apart. The first interview in the overdose group followed an overdose.


Significant differences were found between the 3 groups on all of the variables at both interviews. However, when depressive affect (Beck Depression Inventory) was controlled for, all of these differences disappeared, except for impulsivity at the second interview. Here the overdose group remained more impulsive than the other groups even when depression was considered.


Depression is the most important factor in the presentation of a range of psychological characteristics of adolescents who take overdoses, and this remains true at 6-week follow-up. Impulsivity is apparently an important factor, independent of depression, in adolescent self-poisoning. Further research is required to determine the mediating role of impulsivity in this behavior and to identify treatment strategies for it.

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