Parents, teens and mental health: Suicide ideation rates nearly double since the pandemic
CHICAGO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Sep 10, 2021–
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens and young adults, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens are of growing concern with rates of suicidal ideation and attempts nearly twice as high compared to pre- pandemic times.
ComPsych, the world’s largest provider of integrated behavioral health and well-being services, has seen a double-digit increase in calls related to anxiety and depression worries with their teens and a 35% spike in corporate requests for employee suicide awareness and prevention training.
“The teen mental health crisis is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and as the pandemic continues, we can see the confluence of crisis exacerbate anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. “Resources are key in helping support people and preventing tragedy.”
A recent ComPsych Tell it Now ℠ poll reveals 49% of parents are concerned about the pressure, stress and anxiety their child is experiencing and don’t know how to help. Throughout September, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, ComPsych will host interactive customer trainings and share digital suicide prevention toolkits and resources to amplify the conversation, break stigma and highlight warning signs and ways to help those who may be suffering.
Experts agree increased mental health challenges influenced by disruptions in daily life, social isolation and changes in peer interactions have had a significant impact on adolescents and young adults. According to the CDC, even before the pandemic began, the youth suicide rate in the United States was the highest in recorded history. While progress has been made in raising awareness around mental health and suicide prevention in the past few years, unfortunately, suicide is still heavily stigmatized.
“Suicide prevention does not start in the emergency room, it starts at home, and at work,” said Chaifetz. “Employers play an increasingly important role in supporting the mental health and well-being of their employees – and destigmatizing mental health is critical to addressing challenges and reversing the trend,” said Chaifetz.
Being preoccupied with songs, movies or video games with violent or suicidal content
How to Help
Be sure to take action immediately if you suspect someone is suicidal. If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
ComPsych® Corporation is the world’s largest provider of employee assistance programs (EAP) and is the pioneer and worldwide leader of fully integrated EAP, behavioral health, wellness, work-life, HR, FMLA and absence management services under its GuidanceResources® brand. ComPsych provides services to more than 56,000 organizations covering more than 127 million individuals throughout the U.S. and 190 countries. By creating “Build-to-Suit” programs, ComPsych helps employers attract and retain employees, increase employee productivity and improve overall health and well-being. For more information, visit www.compsych.com and follow us @ComPsych on Twitter.
Understanding teen suicide, separating fact from myths:
Despite the efforts of the mental health and public health fields, suicide remains the third most common cause of death for adolescents 15-19 years of age (behind accidents and homicide).
Although facts such as these can leave us feeling hopeless, there are myths that may lead us to act inappropriately or not take action at all. By dispelling myths with currently known research findings, we can improve our ability to identify children at risk and more effectively intervene to prevent suicide.
Myth: Suicide always occurs without any warning signs.
Fact: There are disorders and behaviors that can be diagnosed and/or observed that can assist with identifying youth at risk for suicide. Depression is the single most significant psychiatric risk factor for adolescent suicidal behavior. Some predictors of suicidal events in treated, depressed samples of adolescents include a past suicide attempt and high baseline levels of suicidal ideation, agitation, and anger. Other significant risk factors for suicide in adolescents include other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use, and disruptive behaviors (such as conduct disorder and significant impulsivity). A recent study revealed that family conflict is also a significant contributor to suicidality in a depressed population (Brent et al., 2009). Further, a recent stressful life event in combination with a psychiatric condition is an increased risk for suicide attempts (Gould et al., 1996).
Myth: If you ask a child or adolescent about suicidal thoughts, you might put an idea into their heads, so you should not ask.
Fact: A recent multi-site study looked at predictors of suicidal adverse events in a population of depressed adolescents and found that relying on “spontaneous report of suicidal adverse events will underestimate the rate of events compared to systematic assessment” (Brent et al., 2009). In the study, they detected more suicidal adverse events, nonsuicidal self-injury events as well as more suicide attempts when the monitoring was conducted in a systematic manner. These findings suggest that not asking a child about suicidal ideation is significantly more dangerous than asking.
Myth: If an adolescent has made a suicide attempt in the past, they are not likely to try again in a more lethal manner. They are just trying to get attention.
Fact: While suicidal ideation alone would tend to over predict the likelihood of a suicide attempt, a previous attempt is a very strong indicator of high risk. A previous suicide attempt is the number one and two predictors, for boys and girls respectively, of a completed suicide. Some believe that adolescents who make a second attempt might just be dramatic, when in fact they are truly at risk of taking their lives.
Myth: Media coverage about suicide attempts or completed suicides does not impact suicidal behavior in youth.
Fact: Suicide contagion is real. There is an increase in suicide by readers/viewers when the number of stories about individual suicides increases, a particular death is reported at length or in many stories, the story of a suicide is placed on the front page or at the beginning of a broadcast, or the headlines about a suicide death is dramatic. It is important to not dramatize the impact of suicide through descriptions and pictures as this can encourage other adolescents to seek attention in the same way.
Of more recent concern is the use of the internet as a tool for attention and communication about suicide among teens. There is no research yet to understand the impact of cyberspace on youth suicide.
The National Institute of Mental Health has a website devoted to assisting the media with appropriate reporting of suicide (www.nimh.nih.gov/).
Myth: Taking medication for depression may make a child suicidal.
Fact: Although there is significant controversy about this issue, many researchers have found the opposite to be true. The introduction of the SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) in the 1980’s was believed to contribute to the steady decrease in suicides between 1990 and 2003. Following the institution of the “black box warnings” for SSRI’s, between 2003 and 2005, the prescription rate of SSRI’s for adolescents dropped 22% in the United States.
During this same period suicide rates increased in the Netherlands by 49% and in the United States by 14%. Several researchers have advocated the theory that the reduction in use of SSRI’s led to the increased rates in youth suicide.
Myth: Once people decide to die by suicide, there is nothing you can do to stop them.
Fact: While suicide prevention is still far from perfect, there have been a few agreed upon effective interventions. Those interventions that have been shown to be beneficial include physician education, means restriction, and gatekeeper education (Mann et al., 2005). Education of primary care physicians about the diagnosis and treatment of depression in children and adolescents is an important component to decreasing youth suicide.
By ensuring that youth do not have access to the most commonly used lethal methods of suicide we can decrease the number of completed suicides (firearms, pesticides, etc.). Although gatekeepers refer to such groups as the military, it is possible that schools can perform such a function. The Columbia Suicide Screen (www.teenscreen.org) has been utilized to identify suicidal and emotionally troubled students that would not otherwise be identified by school professionals.
Myth: Only a professional would be able to identify a child at risk for suicide.
Fact: Parents, caregivers, and involved school personnel may be the first to notice changes in a child at risk for suicide. Some warning signs include those that indicate a severe depression and others that are particular risk factors for suicide. Some signs to watch for include: change in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawal from friends/family, violent actions, running away, substance use, neglect of personal appearance, personality change, boredom, decline in academic functioning, frequent physical complaints, lack of enjoyment in activities, and intolerance to praise.
Also, as per the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Facts for Families (www.aacap.org), a teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also: complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside, give verbal hints with statements such as: I won’t be a problem for you much longer, Nothing matters, It’s no use, and I won’t see you again, become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression, and develop signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts).
Although the rates of adolescent suicide are disheartening, by learning about the facts and making informed decisions, professionals and parents involved in the lives of adolescents can begin to make a difference.
When Clark Flatt’s 16-year-old son killed himself with a .38 caliber pistol nearly two decades ago, no one in his community, school, or church was talking about suicide.
“We talked about drugs; we talked about bullying. No one ever mentioned teen suicide as a threat to my son,“ recalls Flatt, who today is president of the non-profit Jason Foundation, a suicide education and prevention organization. “If I had gone through and learned about the warning signs, I might not have thought ‘suicide,’ but I would have said, ‘I need to get some professional help for him.’”
Parents often think suicide can’t happen in their family and avoid talking about it. But teen suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Only accidents, including car crashes and overdoses, kill more people ages 10 to 24.
“Suicide doesn’t just happen to other people,” Flatt says. “It happens to the football captain, the head of the chess team, and the student body government leader.”
Preventing Teen Suicide
Talk about Suicide
It’s important to be direct when talking about teen suicide. If you have concerns, ask your teen outright if she ever thinks about hurting herself. Don’t worry that you’re “putting ideas in their heads,” advises Dr. David Miller, president of the Association of American Suicidology.
“If an adolescent is already suicidal, talking about it, your words, are not going to make them more suicidal than they already are,” Miller says. “If they are not currently suicidal, then talking about it won’t magically make them so.”
Risk Factors for Suicide
Although we sometimes think of teens as impulsive risk-takers, this trait doesn’t necessarily contribute to more teen suicide attempts, according to Miller.
“In the research I’ve seen, people who are suicidal have often thought about this a great deal,” he notes.
Risk factors for suicide include a family history of suicide and mental health disorders, substance abuse, illness, feelings of isolation, and easy access to guns, medications, or other lethal means, according to the CDC.
A “trigger event” such as bullying, a bad grade, or a breakup can also prompt a vulnerable teen to attempt suicide, explains Flatt, who formed the Jason Foundation in his son’s memory. The Tennessee-based organization now has 92 affiliates across the country, serving an estimated four million people.
Know the Teen Suicide Warning Signs
Most adolescents who attempt suicide—four out of five, according to the Jason Foundation—give some type of warning, including:
Suicidal ideation or preoccupation with suicide, ranging from fleeting thoughts to detailed plans
Statements such as, “I wish I were dead,” or, “No one would miss me if I were gone”
Persistent feelings of depression or hopelessness
Behavior that is out of character, such as dramatic changes in grades, hygiene, or mood
Giving away prized possessions
Have a Plan to Prevent Teen Suicide
Parents know they should take their kids to the emergency room if they have appendicitis, but they often don’t know what to do if their child is depressed. Here’s what experts recommend:
1. Research mental health resources. “Don’t wait until the critical point,” Flatt warns. “If you wait until there’s actually suicidal ideation, you’ve really reached a very dangerous edge.”
2. Maintain an open dialogue with your teen.
3. If your teen seems depressed, don’t ignore it or assume it’s typical teen moodiness.
4. Store guns, prescription medications, and alcohol in safe locations.
5. Encourage your teen to seek adult help if they notice a friend exhibiting suicidal behaviors. “This is not about being a snitch. This is about helping someone and potentially saving someone’s life,” stresses Miller.
Mary Helen Berg is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, Scary Mommy, and many other publications.
Reprinted with permission by Your Teen Magazine.
Are you struggling with a teen and have exhausted your local resources? Are you concerned that they may be at-risk and considering residential therapy? Contact us today. Since 2001 we’ve been educating parents on the teen help industry and visiting many schools and programs throughout our country.