Suicidal cognition is defined here as the combination of thinking about committing suicide and engaging in self-harm and is considered to indicate maladjustment following an extreme internalized reaction to negative life events. Victimization at home and at school might lead some youth to suicidal cognition. The present study aimed to examine cross-sectional predictors of suicidal cognition focusing on the unique influence of 'direct victimization' at school by peers and at home by parents, over and above that of vicarious victimization (i.e. exposure to domestic violence). Participants were 998 adolescents randomly recruited from high schools in Italy who had to fill in a cross-sectional survey measuring different dimensions associated with suicidal cognition. Thoughts about committing suicide and self-harming in the previous 6 months were reported by almost a fourth of the whole sample, with girls having these thoughts more frequently than boys. A high prevalence rate was reported also for direct victimization at school (over half of the sample), and at home (a third of the sample) and for vicarious victimization at home (reported by a fifth of the entire sample). Multiple hierarchical regressions showed that a significant proportion of the total variance of suicidal cognition was explained by gender and age, meaning that older girls are more at risk of suicidal cognition than boys; relational victimization at school is also a risk factor. Direct victimization at home by the father for boys and by the father and the mother for girls significantly predicted suicidal cognition after controlling for exposure to domestic violence. © 2003 The Association for Professionals in Services for Adolescents. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.