What are your chances of living to age 35?” A new study by a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researcher exploring that sin­gular ques­tion has found that ado­les­cents who express uncer­tainty about living past young adult­hood are more likely than opti­mistic indi­vid­uals to attempt sui­cide more than a decade later.

The study’s find­ings, which were reported on Wednesday in the open-​​access sci­en­tific journal PLoS ONE, show this ques­tion is also highly pre­dic­tive of other future adult outcomes.

Quynh Nguyen, lead author and data ana­lyst for the Insti­tute on Urban Health Research in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, ana­lyzed data col­lected from a nation­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive cohort of 19,000 ado­les­cents in grades 7 through 12 across gen­ders, cul­tures, races and socioe­co­nomic status. The teens were sur­veyed in the National Lon­gi­tu­dinal Study of Ado­les­cent Health in 1995 and then again in 2008. That study was con­ducted by the Car­olina Pop­u­la­tion Center and funded by the National Insti­tutes of Health and 23 other fed­eral agen­cies and foundations.

Nguyen found that ado­les­cents who report an expec­ta­tion of 50 per­cent chance or less of living past age 35 are more likely to attempt sui­cide, struggle with drinking and use drugs and smoke more often as adults than their more opti­mistic peers.

Given its pre­dic­tive suc­cess, Nguyen said that asking a teen about his or her chances of living to age 35 could prove be a useful risk assess­ment tool in youth coun­seling sessions.

Bleak per­cep­tions about the future in ado­les­cence may encourage the devel­op­ment of thought pat­terns in which neg­a­tive events are seen as inevitable and prob­lems are seen as insol­uble,” Nguyen explained. “When you give up hope for the future, you may not see the point of trying; you may be more reck­less with your­self and with others.” 

Pro­viding health living envi­ron­ments for ado­les­cents in which they can thrive could boost their sur­vival expec­ta­tions, she said.

People’s expec­ta­tions of the future can influ­ence their decision-​​making,” Nguyen explained. “As adults, we can be role models to youth in our com­mu­ni­ties. We can con­nect youth with resources and expe­ri­ences and safe envi­ron­ments that enable them to pursue their goals.”

The study dove­tails with Northeastern’s focus on use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sustainability.