The teen years are a confusing time for most and tumultuous for many. Mix confusion with depression and insecurity, and the result could be deadly.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year-olds, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
“Teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears while growing up,” the AACAP Web site reported. “For some teenagers, divorce, the formation of a new family with step-parents and step-siblings, or moving to a new community can be very unsettling and can intensify self-doubts.”
For some, suicide becomes a “solution.”
CNN.com reported that the age and race of those who commit suicide has changed over the past 20 years.
Suicide rates among young black men have increased by two-thirds in the past 15 years, according to CNN.com. At the same time, the suicide rate has tripled for young white males and doubled for young white females. Another at-risk group included children aged 10 to 14.
American Indian and Alaska Native youth had the highest rate of suicide of all ethnic groups, according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Education Program (YSPEP). In fact, they had more than twice the rate of any other group, with males at four times the risk.
YSPEP also found that Hispanic females are the most likely to report seriously considering suicide of any ethnic group, and gay and lesbian youth are at least three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide.
CNN.com also reported that beyond actual suicides, there are many more failed attempts. About 500,000 Americans are treated annually in emergency rooms after trying to commit suicide.
The numbers have been staggering enough to cause Surgeon General David Satcher to take notice.
Last year, along with advocates, clinicians, researchers and survivors of suicide, Satcher unveiled the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill called Satcher’s plan “the first national attempt to prevent suicide by designing a framework for coordinating resources and services at all levels of government including federal, state, local and within the private sector.”
The goals included promoting awareness about suicide prevention, reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems, improving reporting and portrayals of suicidal behavior, mental illness and substance abuse in the entertainment and news media, and implementing screening guidelines for schools, colleges and correctional institutions.
A Center for Disease Control survey of nearly 11,000 high school students revealed some shocking information about how many teens have actually thought about suicide.
According to the survey, 24.1 percent of students had thought seriously about attempting suicide, 17.7 percent had made a specific plan to attempt suicide and 8.7 percent had attempted suicide. Nearly 3 percent of students had made a suicide attempt which resulted in an injury, poisoning or overdose that required medical attention.
The survey also revealed that female students were more likely than males to have thought seriously about attempting suicide (30.4 percent), to have made a specific plan to attempt suicide (21.3 percent) and to have attempted suicide (11.9 percent).
Among all ages, the CDC discovered that suicide claimed more American lives than homicide.
The American Psychiatric Association reported that the strongest risk factors for suicide in youth are depression, alcohol or drug abuse and aggressive or disruptive behaviors. The APA suggested looking for any of the following symptoms, experiences or behaviors:
- Depressed mood
- Substance abuse
- Frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated
- Family loss or instability
- Expressions of suicidal thought, or talk of death or the afterlife during moments of sadness
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
- Impulsive, aggressive behavior; frequent expressions of rage
Teens are “especially vulnerable to these feelings if they have experienced loss, humiliation or trauma of some kind: poor performance on a test, breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, parents with drug or alcohol problems or who are abusive or a family affected by parental discord, separation or divorce,” according to APA.
Of course, teens may still be depressed or suicidal without these adverse conditions, APA noted.
A 2001 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that family support and good grades are among factors that can offset the risks of teen suicide.
“Perceived parental and family connectedness was one of the most common factors seen as protective against suicide,” the Academy of Pediatrics reported. “A high grade point average was a significant protective factor among boys, and emotional well-being helped to offset the known risk factors among girls.”
Treatment is essential for teens exhibiting any of the warning signs for suicide.
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.
For more information on the warning signs of teen suicide and treatment facilities near you, visit the following sites:
American Psychiatric Association
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Youth Suicide Prevention Education Program
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
American Association of Suicidology