Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents 15 to 19 years old. A 2013 Youth Risk Behavior survey revealed that in the previous 12 months 17% of girls and 10% of boys have planned a suicide. So, what can parents do to protect their child?
Early identification of risk factors is a start. Some risk factors include a family history of mental health issues, male gender, sexual orientation or gender issues, and a history of abuse. Sadness and feelings of hopelessness often preclude suicide and should be clues for the family to investigate further. Suicide rarely occurs randomly and there are many opportunities to identify those at risk. Teenagers experiencing a psychotic episode have a 70-fold increase in suicidal behavior, and over 90% of suicide victims have a psychiatric disorder. This lets us know that as parents, getting the mental healthcare our child needs is vital.
Bullying is a risk that needs to be taken more seriously. The same 2013 survey showed that 34% of girls and 15.5 % of boys have been bullied on school property. Bullying can also occur over the internet and is known as cyber bullying. Cyber bullying may be harder to understand for parents, but their effects on the victim – such as harm to self-esteem and self-worth – are very real.
The leading methods of suicide include suffocation, using a firearm, and poisoning. Parents can decrease the chance of a completed suicide by restricting access to firearms and drugs in the house. Monitoring how your child spends time on the internet will help to detect bullying. Try to have an open relationship and communication with your child. Discuss issues with your healthcare provider if there are concerns about suicide and mood disorders. Treatment of underlying mental health issues can lead to the prevention of suicidal thoughts, and ultimately suicide. Every community has different resources available for treating mental health and for suicide prevention. If the threat of suicide is severe, admission into a hospital may be required to obtain the necessary treatment.
Teenage suicide is not just an isolated personal tragedy; it affects all of us by denying the world that young person’s potential. Having an increased focus on mental healthcare, open dialogue amongst family members, and establishing care with qualified healthcare professionals can help prevent that promising young human from ending with another sad story.
Dr. Marcelino Latina DO/MBA/FAAP, Pediatrician, Chino Valley Family Physicians