Study: Friendships More Vital to Teen Girls

"Girls spend a lot of time on their phones, in close, tight-knit social relationships," he says. You don't have to be a sociologist to see girls involved in intimate conversations, exchanging secrets that boys would never reveal. Take away those friends, and girls have fewer places to turn.

Isolation: A Chicken or Egg Issue

The study also suggests that when those relationships fail, girls tend to internalize it all. Boys, Moody says, tend to externalize it, making them more likely to carry a weapon to school to seek revenge. That, too, often results in suicide, but Moody says that's probably not the main motive. Boys just want to get even, he says, and girls are more likely to blame themselves.

Of course, it's easy to generalize these things and draw broad, sweeping conclusions on the basis of scant evidence. Peer relationships are very complex, and there's probably a little bit of the chicken and the egg question here.

Are girls who consider suicide pushed that way because they are isolated, or are they isolated because they are a bit suicidal and not exactly the kind of person anyone wants to hang out with?

"That's a great question," Moody says. "And we don't have a perfect answer."

There is probably a "reciprocal relationship" between moods and relationships, he says. If an adolescent girl is contemplating suicide, that may turn off some friends, causing the thoughts of suicide to "snowball," he adds. It's not always fun to pal around with a downer.

"When you start down this path it's very easy to end up in a position that is very strongly isolated and hard to get out of," he says.

So just thoughts of suicide may lead to further isolation, which increases the danger, at least for girls.

All of that, of course, is subject to debate, but the researchers say one fact screams out from their study. When a teenage girl admits to having considered suicide, and her friends seem to be drifting away, someone better be listening.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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