Adolescent attachment security, family functioning, and suicide attempts

Arielle H. Sheftall, Charles W. Mathias, R. Michael Furr, Donald M. Dougherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Theories of suicidal behavior suggest that the desire to die can arise from disruption of interpersonal relationships. Suicide research has typically studied this from the individual's perspective of the quality/frequency of their social interactions; however, the field of attachment may offer another perspective on understanding an individual's social patterns and suicide risk. This study examined attachment along with broader family functioning (family adaptability and cohesion) among 236 adolescent psychiatric inpatients with (n = 111) and without (n = 125) histories of suicide attempts. On average, adolescents were 14 years of age and Hispanic (69%). Compared to those without suicide attempts, adolescent attempters had lower self-reported maternal and paternal attachment and lower familial adaptability and cohesion. When comparing all three types of attachment simultaneously in the logistic regression model predicting suicide attempt status, paternal attachment was the only significant predictor. Suicide attempt group was also significantly predicted by self-rated Cohesion and Adaptability; neither of the parent ratings of family functioning were significant predictors. These findings are consistent with the predictions of the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide about social functioning and support the efforts to develop attachment-based interventions as a novel route towards suicide prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-383
Number of pages16
JournalAttachment and Human Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2013


  • adolescence
  • attachment
  • family functioning
  • psychiatric patient
  • suicide attempt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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