Even before COVID-19 pandemic, youth suicide already at record high
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24 and has been increasing every year since 2007
Suicide rates have been on the rise. For the past 10 years, children and teens have been taking their own lives at alarming rates.
UC Davis Health adolescent medicine physician Laura Kester says the challenges that children and teens normally face have been amplified by isolation and distancing during the pandemic.
The rate of suicide for those ages 10 to 24 increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 in 2018.
“I have most definitely felt the mental health challenges reflected in patient needs and interactions with me,” Kester said. “It unfortunately has been a hard time for adolescents, as for so many.”
We asked Laura Kester some frequently asked questions about teen suicide and what to watch for.
What are signs that parents should be looking for?
Many of the warning signs of suicide are also symptoms of depression, such as your child expressing that he or she feels like a burden, losing interest in usual activities or schoolwork, withdrawing from family and friends, neglecting one’s appearance, increasing substance use or acting out.
Other common signs include:
- Increased anxiety
- Unnecessary risk-taking
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Lack of response to praise
- Looking for a way to access lethal means
- Increased anger, rage or irritability
- Extreme mood swings
- Problems focusing
- Running away
- Expressing hopelessness
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits that result in sleeping too little or too much and eating too little or too much
- Talking, posting, or obsessing about death or wanting to die
- Making plans for suicide
- More physical complaints often linked to emotional distress, such as stomachaches, headaches, and extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Making plans or efforts toward committing suicide or writing a suicide note
- Giving or throwing away important or favored possessions
What can you do as a parent if you’re concerned about your child contemplating suicide?
As a parent or guardian, try to be open in your communication with your child or children: let them know that you love them, support them, and are there to talk and listen. Try not to let them spend too much time alone. Pay attention to changes in behaviors or signs of withdrawal from regular activities. Safely secure all medications, substances or weapons at home.
If your child says they are anxious, depressed, want to hurt themselves or don’t want to be alive, do not downplay how they are feeling. It is important to take the warning signs seriously. If you are concerned and your child already has a mental health provider, contact that person for what you should do next. If your child doesn’t have one or if you are unable to reach that person, you should take your child for a full mental health evaluation.
What is the treatment for suicidal thoughts or ideation?
Treatment should be comprehensive and address physical and mental health needs. Mental health needs include therapy or family therapy. Family therapy can be important especially for adolescents, because of where the person is in life. Family members are the closest to the patient and also at times can be part of the stress factor. Treatment depends on factors like age and severity of the needs and can include inpatient, partial treatment, intensive outpatient or outpatient therapy. Treatment may also include medication.
Physical health needs include sleep, nutrition and physical activity, which all contribute to mental health, especially with adolescents.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of harming yourself, please reach out for help.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text CONNECT to 741741 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Additional Resources/ References
- Talking About 13 Reasons Why & Teen Suicide: Tips for Parents
- 10 Things Parents can do to Prevent Suicide
- How to Communicate With and Listen to Your Teen
- Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs
- “13 Reasons Why”: Talking to Your Kids About Suicide
- AAP: Suicide Prevention Tool kit
- Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Adolescents
- CDC: Suicide rising across the US
- CDC: QuickStats: Suicide Rates*,† for Teens Aged 15–19 Years, by Sex — United States, 1975–2015