September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Tuesday, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. And this year, it comes on the heels of new research showing that more adolescents and young adults are dying by suicide than ever before.
Released in June, the new analysis of teen suicide statistics shows that the youth suicide rate in the United States is currently the highest in recorded history — 14.46 per 100,000 for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Moreover, suicide is the second most common cause of death in the United States among youth ages 10–19, and the number of teens admitted to children’s hospitals as a result of suicidal thoughts or self-harm has more than doubled during the last decade.
The rise in teen suicide rates calls for a corresponding increase in education and prevention efforts. Understanding the risk factors and warning signs can help prevent suicide in adolescence. Thus, suicide awareness is vital for parents, peers, teachers, coaches, and anyone who lives or works with teens.
“As individuals and as a society, we must do everything we can to reverse the current adolescent mental health crisis and its accompanying suicide trends,” said Jamison Monroe Jr., an adolescent mental health advocate and the founder of Newport Academy, an evidence-based treatment program for teens and young adults.
Both Boys and Girls Are at Risk
The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), pinpointed a spike in suicides among older teenage boys — up to 17.9 per 1000,000 in 2017. However, many of the recent teen suicide statistics focus on teen girls. Since 2000, the suicide rate among girls and young women has doubled. In particular, there has been a sharp increase in teen girls poisoning themselves. In 2018, close to 60,000 girls ages 10 to 18 tried to poison themselves. Such poisonings include intentional overdoses of pharmaceutical or illicit drugs.
Teen girls learn to “put on a pretty face,” hiding the pain within that leads to suicidal behavior. Hence, suicides by female adolescents are often unexpected. Furthermore, impulsivity is a key risk factor in suicide, and teen girls are likely to be impulsive. In addition, recent research shows that the black-and-white thinking patterns of teen girls may make them more prone to suicidal ideation and behavior.
Risk Factors for Teen Suicide
Many factors can contribute to the risk of adolescent suicide. Risk factors do not cause teen suicide, but they may contribute to a teen’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt.
The top reasons for teenage suicide include the following:
• Family history of suicide
• A history of substance abuse
• Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma
• Social isolation or bullying
• Losing a family member through death or divorce
• Financial or job loss
• Conflict within relationships
• Starting or changing psychotropic medications
• Feeling stigmatized
• Lack of support.
Treatment for Teen Depression
Suicide can be the tragic result of untreated depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of American youth will experience some degree of teen depression. Thus, treatment for depression is a vital factor in suicide prevention.
With suicidal depression, different forms of individual therapy contribute toward sustainable healing. Furthermore, such treatment is also essential for suicide survivors. These approaches include Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) which is specifically designed to address depression and the risk of teen suicide by repairing ruptured relationships between parents and teens. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps teens identify the self-defeating thoughts and assumptions that make life more difficult.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) provides specific skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation. These skills can be used right away and become stronger with practice. Experiential modalities, such as art therapy and music therapy, give teens ways to process their emotions through self-expression and body-based practices. In addition, developing positive coping and relaxation skills for managing stress can help protect teens against suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
Suicide Warning Signs
There are ways to recognize whether someone is considering a suicide attempt. Here are some of the warning signs.
• Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
• Feeling hopeless or trapped
• Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
• Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits
• Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm
• Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends
• Searching online for methods of committing suicide
• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away prized possessions
• Trouble concentrating and/or a drop in academic performance
• Migraines, frequent stomachaches, or other physical complaints
• Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
• Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression
If you see any of these signs, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and World Suicide Prevention Day are designed to provide opportunities for individuals and organizations to share resources and stories that help bring mental health issues out into the open. Ultimately, such efforts are designed to help teens understand that they are not alone. Teen suicide is preventable. The cure is awareness, knowledge, and access to resources.