September 8, 2017

Youth Suicide: Facts, Signs and Risk Factors

Category: 
Mental Health and Behavioral HealthChildren's Mental Health

Suicide is a terrible situation too many families have faced. If you’re unfamiliar, some of the facts about suicide may surprise you:

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States—starting with children at age 10 all the way up to adults at age 33.
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
  • In an average day, there are more than 5,200 suicide attempts made by middle school and high school students.
  • Far more children think about killing themselves than those who actually attempt suicide. This is called "suicidal ideation."

Warning signs

It’s estimated that 80 percent of individuals who commit suicide may have shown some signs before they tried to kill themselves. But not all of these warning signs may have offered a clear indication of their intentions. This means that in four out of five cases we may have an opportunity to identify and offer help to these teens. Watch for:

  • Threats of suicide. Any threat should be taken seriously, whether direct, indirect, through comments, text messages, or social media. People who talk about or threaten suicide are more likely to actually attempt it.
  • A preoccupation with death. This can be seen through references in conversations, social media posts, school assignments, or artwork.
  • Symptoms of depression. These can include sudden changes in personality or eating and sleeping habits. Withdrawal from family and friends, lack of interest in activities, declining school performance, increased irritability, or a sense of hopelessness and despair can also be signs.
  • Planning. After opting for suicide, young people may take steps to make arrangements like saying goodbyes or giving away items they treasure.
  • Alcohol or drug use/abuse. Habits that may be starting or increasing are noteworthy.
  • Certain feelings. Loneliness, shame, guilt, humiliation, or rejection may arise.

Remember this is not an all-inclusive list of warning signs. Anytime you notice behaviors that concern you, don’t hesitate or be afraid to ask questions. Contact a professional immediately.

There are some behaviors that can also serve as risk factors that might increase the likelihood of attempting suicide. While these factors can increase a child's risk for suicide, predicting suicidal behaviors is very difficult—and the subject of important research by Bradley Hospital’s PediMIND Program.

Risk factors include:

  • Previous suicide attempts.
  • A recent loss, such as a loved one, relationship, job, recent parental separation or divorce.
  • Being bullied at school or elsewhere.
  • Depression or bipolar disorder, which may include episodes of abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable moods known as “mania”.
  • Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI)—meaning people who cut or injure themselves without any intent or plan to die.

What can families do?

If your child displays any warning signs, or if you have a concern about a young person’s actions or behaviors, do something. Talk to the child. Seek professional help if necessary.

A recent PBS NewsHour report highlighted the need for further research about suicide. Families can gain a lot by participating in a research study, including a better understanding of what is going on with their child. They also are also helping us improve our understanding of what makes the brains of kids who cut themselves (i.e., NSSI), who attempt suicide, or who have bipolar disorder different from kids without these problems. Understanding these brain differences in NSSI or bipolar disorder helps us learn how to address these issues.

The PediMIND program at Bradley Hospital is looking for courageous families who want to make a difference. This includes children with:

  • bipolar disorder
  • those with NSSI (self-cutting) without prior suicide attempts
  • children without psychiatric problems

To learn more, please visit the PediMIND program.

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