ROBERT M. NEWELL, PH.D.
FORENSIC AND CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY
Specializing in Behavioral Healthcare for Children &
Adolescents, Families, Couples, and Adults.
WHAT EVERY PARENT NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT
Adolescent suicide is a significant healthcare problem in our country today. Since the 1960’s there has been a steady increase in teenage suicide, and suicide is now 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. Over 5,000 adolescents commit suicide each year in our country, with boys outnumbering girls by a ratio of 4:1. The number of attempted suicides is even higher. More than 75% of the increase in the adolescent suicide rate is associated with the use of firearms, and over 60% of all suicides by adolescents are committed with a firearm.
These statistics are disturbing. However, it is important to remember that with appropriate intervention suicidal thoughts and feelings can be treated. Most suicides and suicide attempts by adolescents are not simply attempts to “get attention”, but are an expression of deep emotional pain and distress. Research shows that suicide attempts among young people may be based on long-standing problems and triggered by a specific event. Adolescents who are suicidal may view a temporary troubling situation as a permanent condition. Feelings of anger and resentment combined with exaggerated guilt can lead to impulsive, self-destructive acts. There are a variety of reasons that an adolescent may attempt suicide, but very often it’s because they see themselves as being out of options in dealing with family discord, rejection, or failure. Parents, other adults, and peers must always take any threat of suicide seriously.
Risk Factors for Adolescent Suicide
Listed below are some risk factors adolescent suicide. In general, the greater the number of risk factors that are present for a respective adolescent, the greater the risk is that the adolescent may commit suicide.
· Loss of a parent before age 13
· Perceived loss of reputation with their peers
· A broken love affair
· School problems
· A tendency toward perfectionism
· Substance abuse
· Imitation of a recent suicide (i.e., “copycat”)
· A previous suicide attempt.
Four out of five adolescents who attempted suicide gave clear warnings prior to their attempt. If you suspect that a child or adolescent is suicidal, watch for important warning signs of distress such as:
· Threats of suicide, either direct or indirect (e.g., statements such as “I won’t be around much longer,” “It’s hopeless,” or “I won’t see you again.”
· Talking about death or about dying
· Indications of thoughts or fantasies about suicide or death (such as making drawings or writing poems)
· A recent unsuccessful attempt
· Recent loss of a friend by suicide
· Suddenly giving away significant personal possessions, putting affairs in order, throwing away important belongings
· Sudden cheerfulness after a period of depression
· Exhibiting hallucinations or bizarre thoughts
What You Can Do To Help Your Child
As a parent, any statement or indication of suicide by your child must be taken seriously, even if it seems that your child is just trying to get negative attention. If you are concerned that your son or daughter or another child may be experiencing thoughts of suicide or may be at-risk for suicidal behavior, do the following:
· Do not leave the child or teen alone
· Make sure your child or teen does not have access to a weapon
· Let the child or teen know that you care and want to help
· Ask the child or teen if he or she is feeling depressed or thinking about suicide. Talking directly and honestly provides a chance for the child to open up and to discuss his/her feelings and thoughts.
· Provide the child or teen with local resources, such as an 800 number or other crisis hotline, or mental health clinic they can visit. If the child or teen is a student, find out if there are any available mental health professionals at the school, and let the child know about them.
· Seek professional help immediately. It is essential to seek expert advice from a mental health professional who has experience helping depressed children and adolescents. Alert key adults in the child’s or teen’s life - family, friends or teacher.
· Inform the child’s or teen’s parent(s) or primary caregiver(s) and recommend that they seek professional assistance for their child or teen.
· Trust your instincts—it is far better to be safe and to take action, than it is to later be sorry you did not say or do something. The situation may be serious, seek immediate help. If you have to, break a confidence in order to save someone’s life.
Warning from the Federal Drug Administration About Paxil
In March 2004 the Federal Drug Administration issued a statement that Paxil should not be prescribed for anyone under the age of 18 due to an increased risk for suicide. Recent research studies found that Paxil was not effective for treating depression in children and adolescents, and that subjects who took Paxil were three times as likely to experience suicidal thoughts and to attempt suicide than were adolescents who took a placebo. Children and adolescents who are currently taking Paxil should not suddenly discontinue the drug due to possible withdrawal effects. If your son or daughter is currently taking Paxil, consult a medical doctor immediately.
Websites of Interest (For Further Information)
American Association of Suicidology www.suicidology.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention www.afsp.org
American Psychiatric Association www.psych.org
Centers for Disease Control Prevention Guidelines:
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Suicide and Violence (fact sheet) www.cdc.gov/ncipc/dvp/suifacts.htm
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) www.nimh.nih.gov/research/suicide.htm
DR. ROBERT M. NEWELL
Copyright © 2004-2007 Robert M. Newell, Ph.D. All rights reserved.