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Modeling the Distinct Pathways of Influence of Coping Strategies on Youth Suicidal Ideation: A National Longitudinal Study



National surveys indicate high rates of suicidal ideation in youth, especially among females. Coping skill training programs hold promise as a potential intervention that can help young people better manage stress and not consider suicide as a solution to life’s problems. To assess the promise of this strategy, the present research examined which coping strategies (if any) predicted reduction in youth suicidal ideation over a 1-year follow-up, and explored the potential pathways through which their influence was channeled. Two waves of panel data from a nationally representative sample of youth, assessed 1 year apart (N = 710; Mean age = 18 years) were analyzed separately by gender using multiple group path analytic procedures. Four coping strategies, namely problem solving, emotional regulation, support seeking and acceptance were found to predict reduction in suicidal ideation among both males and females. However, the influence of these strategies (at baseline) was channeled through distinct pathways. The effect of emotional regulation (and acceptance) was channeled through its use at follow-up and was mediated by reductions in perceived stress and depressive symptoms, leading to reduction in suicidal ideation. The influence of support seeking was also channeled through its more recent use at follow-up, but directly predicted reduction in suicidal ideation, with no effect on perceived stress or depressive symptoms. The effect of problem solving on suicidal ideation was mediated by reduction in depressive symptoms, but was not channeled through its use at follow-up, suggesting a longer time course for the protective influence of this strategy. Finally, acceptance had a direct risk-enhancing effect on suicidal ideation. Coping strategies commonly used by youth can be effective in reducing suicidal ideation and therefore universal training in the effective use of these strategies should be considered. An understanding of the distinct pathways through which their effect on suicidal ideation is transmitted can better inform the design of youth suicide prevention interventions.