Teens & Suicide

I just came across a study that was published online on Jan. 9, 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry about the prevalence of suicidal behavior among teens including thoughts, plans, and attempts. Despite the knowledge that suicidal behaviors are among the leading causes of death, particularly among teens, I was nonetheless quite taken aback by the results of this study.

Researchers at Harvard University found that among a national sample of teens from the ages of 13-18 their rate of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts was 12.1%, 4%, and 4.1%. These are not small numbers and require further discussion. The study also revealed that approximately 33% of teens with suicidal idealization develop a suicide plan during their teenage years and approximately 60% of those with a plan will make a suicide attempt.

I tried to look at the results a little more carefully so that I could give parents everywhere some takeaway messages. Statistics alone are not necessarily helpful particularly if it is your kid who we are talking about. So let me try to be a bit more helpful and a little less focused on statistics. Teenage girls, I learned are at higher risk for suicidal behaviors than teen boys. This is not surprising given that teen girls are at increased risk for depression just like their mothers vs. their fathers. Another takeaway for parents is that suicidality among teens is associated with not only depression but also anxiety disorders, substance abuse and other forms of acting-out behavior.

The most important message is that our teens’ mental health should be assessed on a regular basis whether or not their symptoms are clearly evident. I have written several articles about my feeling that all kids should have annual mental health visits as well as physical exams. I have even consulted at conferences where this issue has been addressed. The confluence of concerning adolescent behavior including both homicidal behavior(as in school violence) and depression should support my plea. What are your thoughts? Would you rather have a silently suffering kid or one who is dealing the the black hole of depression and other issues with a professional?