Music preference and suicidal behaviour among adolescents

An article, written by Principal Clinical Psychologist Colby Pearce, which originally appeared on Colby’s blog site Attachment and Resilience.

In my earlier page Predicting Suicide Attempts Among Adolescents I refer to a series of research papers that arose from my collaboration with Professor Graham Martin in the early 1990’s. The first paper published as a result of that collaboration was the following: Martin, G., Clarke, M., & Pearce, C.M.. (1993). Adolescent Suicide: Music Preference as an Indicator of Vulnerability. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 32 : 530-535.

What a coup! The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry  had the fourth highest readership of all psychiatric journals at that time in the world and was the most read child and adolescent psychiatric journal. And this was our first paper in a peer-refereed journal! The topic was sensational at the time, which undoubtedly helped get the paper published. Heavy metal music had been linked in the media to teenage suicides. But this paper did not report that listening to heavy metal music led to suicidal behaviour among adolescents. Rather, what it reported was that acknowledging relatively unconventional music preferences was an indicator of suicidal behaviour among adolescents. This was particularly true of teenage girls who acknowledged a preference for hard rock/heavy metal music in the early 1990’s.

The findings presented in this paper were an important step in the crystallisation of my thoughts about the importance of a sense of connectedness and identification with the ideas and values of mainstream society in the regulation of aberrant behaviour; the antithesis of what Durkheim referred to as Anomie in his seminal text Suicide. It is history that, in my career as a Clinical Psychologist, I have focused on the strengthening the bonds that connect us to others and to mainstream ideas and values.

Google indicates that this paper has been cited 122 times in the twenty years since its publication, and even a casual search of the internet will show that it influenced the thoughts and writings of many others.