Teen boys who attempt suicide before the age of 18 are much more likely to show aggression towards their girlfriends or wives as adults, according to a new study.
The researchers collected data from 153 males from higher-crime neighborhoods who were assessed annually between the ages of 10 to 32. Data was also collected from their girlfriends or wives during the period while the men were aged 18 to 25.
According to the study authors, David Kerr of Oregon State University and Deborah Capaldi of the Oregon Social Learning Center, 58% of the young men who attempted suicide later physically abused their partner, compared to 23% of the young men who had not attempted suicide.
"Conventional wisdom portray's men's violence to women as more cold, controlled and calculated," said Capaldi. "The findings of this study indicate that for some men violence is related to a history of impulsive aggression that includes self-harm as well as aggression to others."
"The study has critically important implications for prevention and treatment," she said. "When men are told domestic abuse is solely due to cold, controlling and systematic battering, they may dismiss their own problem since such a pattern may not apply to them. If men understood that it may more be related to controlling anger and impulsive reactions when under stress, they may become more aware that they are at risk and take the responsibility for learning how to avoid this."
Kerr noted, however, that these findings do not excuse men who are violent towards their partners. "Partner violence is a huge problem for women and children, and men are responsible for their behavior."
The authors noted that there was an important distinction to be made between suicidal thoughts and actually acting upon those thoughts. People may think about suicide, but not actually act on those thoughts. Later domestic violence was not linked with just having suicidal thoughts, but rather with young men impulsively acting upon those thoughts. "It may be a man's capacity to hurt himself that makes him more likely to hurt a romantic partner," said Kerr.
"Adolescent boys who attempt suicide are at risk for serious long-term problems," added Kerr, "and thus targeted prevention aimed at decreasing future aggression and increasing behavioral and emotional control is really necessary."
The study appears online in the journal Psychological Medicine.