“The correlation is clear, despite having excluded young people who had been in hospital for mental health problems or drug-related diagnoses,” says Charlotte Björkenstam, doctoral student at Karolinska Institutet and managing director of the National Board of Health and Welfare’s cause-of-death register.
The researchers examined the leaving grades of almost 900,000 former graduates born between 1972 and 1981, when Swedish schools applied a five-point numerical grade scale. A follow-up was then made with respect to suicide up to the ages of 25 to 34. Their results show that those with the very highest grades had the lowest risk of committing suicide. People whose leaving grades were above average but below top level evinced a higher risk than those with top grades, and those who had left year nine with average grades had a higher risk still.
However, the very highest suicide risk was shown by young people with incomplete grades. Those who left year nine with an average grade under 2.25 ran approximately three times the risk of taking their own lives compared with those scoring an average leaving grade of over 4.25. The same pattern was observed amongst boys and girls, although the risks were consistently higher for boys.
In conducting the study, which is published in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the researchers controlled for a number of other variables, such as the educational level of the parents, whether the parents were on benefit or single, the age of the mothers, the mental health of the parents and possible drug use, and whether the child had been adopted. One correlation they found was that while the educational level of the parents did not seem to impact on suicide risk, it was more common for children of low-educated parents to receive lower grades.
“What our study reveals most of all is how important it is to identify and assist pupils who are unable to meet the performance requirements,” says Ms Björkenstam.
School grades, parental education and suicide – a national register-based cohort study
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Epub ahead of print 19 Oct 2010