& Impact

The Youth Suicide Prevention Research Team conducts longitudinal research to track the development of suicide and understand more about the modifiable risk and protective factors and prevalence of suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and suicide mortality in youth.  Our team also contributes to intervention for building good mental health.

we do

We analyzed large longitudinal samples followed up since their birth from Québec (Quebec Longitudinal Sample and Youth, Quebec Longitudinal Study of Kindergarten Children), Canada (National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth), Europe (National Child Development Study) and Asia (Korean Youth Survey Panel). These longitudinal studies contain repeated information on suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and non-suicidal self-injury spanning adolescence through adulthood. We also collaborate with experts on genetic and epigenetics via a partnership with Biopsychosocial Analysis of Mental Health Trajectories Platform of Réseau québecois sur le suicide, les troubles de l’humeur et les troubles associés.

We also test the effectiveness of innovative interventions targeting these protective factors to promote good mental health.

Why we study
youth suicide

Suicide is increasingly a leading cause of death in teens and young adults in Canada and worldwide. There is unfortunately insufficient evidence to inform prevention. Teen suicide is a challenging and complex issue.

our impact

Our research informs
youth suicide prevention by…

(1) Understanding its longitudinal epidemiology

There is a general belief that children rarely think about suicide because they do not understand or fathom their own death. However, the number of children aged 6–12 years in the general population who think about or attempt suicide is non-negligible: 7.5% of children reported having suicidal ideations before reaching their 13thbirthday, 2.2% had a suicide plan, and 1.3% actually attempted suicide (Geoffroy et al. 2022, Lancet Psychiatry). Our team also uncover that suicidal ideation increases during adolescence and remains high in early adulthood, while the number of teens who reported having attempted suicide is relatively constant between 12–20 years (~4%) (Orri et al. 2020, Pediatrics).Half of teens who attempted suicide will attempt it again later in adolescence. These teens were more likely to have had symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood or to have been exposed to someone’s suicide. Others, especially girls, attempted suicide only in adolescence and reported depressive symptoms in childhood. These two distinct groups would benefit from early, but differential, school/clinic intervention (Geoffroy et al., 2020, Psychological Medicine).

(2) Bullying – Cyberbullying 

Our team found higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts in teens who have been previously bullied, particularly those who experience chronic bullying by peers, independently of prior or concurrent mental health problems (Geoffroy et al., 2018, Canadian Medical Journal Association). Cyberbullying was an even stronger concurrent determinant than face-to-face bullying(Perret et al., 2020, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry). A British cohort revealed associations between bullying and suicide mortality up to five decades later (Geoffroy et al., 2022, Psychological Medicine). While it has been suggested that an adolescent’s risk of mental disorders following bullying may be accentuated or attenuated by their genetic liability, our study revealed that polygenic scores for depression and bullying were independently associated with depressive symptoms, but did not interact with each other (Perret et al., 2022, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry). Bullying/cyberbullying is common, often hidden from parents and teachers, modifiable through intervention, and requires vigilance to prevent scars months and years later.

(3) Building resilience in the community

We found that strong social support can help reduce suicidal ideation and attempts for all and in the context of bullying. Adolescents reporting higher levels of perceived social support were at 50% decreased risk for attempting suicide the following year (Scardera et al., 2020, JAMA Network Open). South Korean adolescents who are the victims of their peers reported fewer depressive symptoms when they received support from their friends (Perret et al., 2021,Journal of Affective Disorders). Our innovative research also contributes to establishing one’s exposure to nature as protective factors for mental health, similar to physical activity. Growing up in a greener neighborhood has been associated with lower attention and hyperactivity/ impulsivity and conduct problems in adolescent girls (although not suicidal ideation) (Bolanis et al. manuscript submitted for publication). Adults diagnosed with depression who walked in a green park experienced overall lower levels of negative affect compared to those who walked in urban settings (Watkins-Martin et al. manuscript submitted for publication).

(4) École à Ciel Ouvert or Open Sky School

École à Ciel Ouvert (Open Sky School) is a nature-based intervention for emotional well-being and healthy lifestyle designed for children aged 11-12 years old in elementary schools funded by CIHR (2021-2023) and FQR via OPES (2022-2024). Late childhood is a key period for the acquisition of emotional skills which will serve as the foundation of good mental health in adolescence. École à Ciel Ouvert uses evidence-based strategies from positive psychology, such as mindfulness and art therapy in the context of outdoor education in nature. There is evidence supporting the notion that exposure to natural environments (e.g., greenspace) contribute to better mental health. As such, a growing number of initiates have emerged to encourage individuals to spend time in nature, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These practices have been increasingly encouraged in the education sector, but the effectiveness of a nature-based intervention aiming to foster emotional skills in elementary schools via a range of activities easily accessible to teachers have never been tested. The effectiveness of École à Ciel Ouvert, is currently being tested in a large randomized trial involving 80 schools across Québec including more than 2000 children.

(5) Informing on Youth Mental Health during Covid-19

In 2021, Geoffroy was named as the co-director of the mental health axis of the Observatory for Children’s Health and Education, led by Dr Sylvana Côté with $5 million in funding from the Fonds de recherche du Québec.

While youth have been resilient in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic (Watkins-Martin et al. 2022), the prevalence of severe depression and anxiety problems increased by half after one year into the pandemic. Youth also seek more emergency medical services for mental health problems during the Covid-19 pandemic (Beaudry and al., 2022). In collaboration with Dr. Thombs, we are leading a living systematic review to inform policy and researchers on youth (0-24 years) mental health in Canada during the pandemic. We are actively presenting our key messages to a number of networks (for instance, Réseau québecois pour la réussite educative) and conferences.

our impact

In the community

(6) Public Outreach

We are firmly committed to knowledge translation and public outreach initiatives, logging numerous media appearances. Since 2018, our work has been featured in the national media, including CBC News, Radio-Canada, and La Presse as well as internationally in The Guardian and the Daily Mail. In 2013, Dr. Geoffroy was listed among the “Most Cited Researchers in the Media” at the University of Montreal. She has advised governmental and non-governmental agencies on mental health and suicide prevention programs, including the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Consistently working to integrate research into clinical practice, she co-developed with experienced child (Dr. Karina Béland) and adult (Dr. Sylvie Corbeil) psychologists from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute training for students in psychology on suicide prevention.

 She also created numerous infographics and short videos summarizing her research in simple terms for use on social media.