Suicidal adolescents and ego defense mechanisms

Alan Apter*, Doron Gothelf, Ronny Offer, Gidi Ratzoni, Israel Orbach, Sam Tyano, Cynthia R. Pfeffer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Objectives: To identity defense mechanisms that characterize adolescents with a range of suicidal behaviors and to differentiate them from nonsuicidal adolescents. Method: Fifty-five suicidal adolescent inpatients admitted for a definite suicide attempt were compared with 87 adolescent inpatients who had no history of suicide attempt or ideation and 81 nonpatients. Defense mechanisms were assessed by the Ego Defense Scale (EDS) which is part of a larger semi-structured interview, the Child Suicide Potential Scale (CSPS), and by a self-report questionnaire, the Life Style Index (LSI). The CSPS was also used to quantity violent and suicidal behaviors. Results: On the LSI suicidal adolescent patients scored higher on denial, displacement, repression, and total defenses than the nonpatients. On the EDS they scored higher on regression, denial, projection, introjection, repression, and total defenses and lower on sublimation. LSI scores on displacement (higher) and on compensation (lower) distinguished suicidal from nonsuicidal inpatients. Denial and regression correlated positively and sublimation correlated negatively with both suicidal and violent beheviors. Introjection and repression correlated with suicidal behavior only. Conclusions: Overuse of displacement is connected with increased risk for suicidal and aggressive behaviors, while sublimation is probably a protective factor. In addition, several immature ego defenses possibly amplify aggression, which then is directed against the self by the maladaptive overuse of introjection, displacement, and repression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1520-1527
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1997


  • Adolescence
  • Defense mechanism
  • Suicide
  • Violence


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