“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. ”

Publication: “School grades, parental education and suicide – a national register-based cohort study”, Björkenstam C, Ringbäck Weitoft G, Hjern A, Nordström P, Hallqvist J, Ljung R, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Epub ahead of print 19 October 2010.

For further information, please contact:

Charlotte Björkenstam, Doctoral Student
Department of Public Health Sciences
Mobile: +46(0)75-247 36 55
Email: Charlotte.bjorkenstam@ki.se

Rickard Ljung, MD, Postdoc,
Department of Public Health Sciences
Mobile: +46(0)75-247 33 07
Email: rickard.ljung@ki.se

Karolinska Institutet is one of the world’s leading medical universities. Its mission is to contribute to the improvement of human health through research and education. Karolinska Institutet accounts for over 40 per cent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden, and offers the country’s broadest range of education in medicine and health sciences. Since 1901 the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet has selected the Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine. More information on ki.se.