Suicidal Behavior In Children And Adolescents: Focus on Awareness and Prevention by Dr. Laurence Pezor

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As we complete a week dedicated to the awareness of suicide, it is important to review this manifestation of mental illness and what the community and we, family, friends and mental health professionals, can do to address this crisis.

Statistically, it is staggering that suicide is the 3rd Leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year-olds and the 6th leading cause of death in 5 to 14 year-olds according to data from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP, Facts for Families, 2013). Center for Disease Control data from 2005 indicated that among 15 – 24 year-olds, suicide accounts for 12.9% of all deaths annually.

This is particularly a concern for high school students who, in a study by Eaton et al in 2006, indicated at 16.9% of all high school students seriously considered suicide in the previous twelve months before the study. Additionally, there are significant cultural differences. The same study documented that Hispanic female high school students reported a higher percentage of suicide attempts than their non-Hispanic peers.

These statistics, however overwhelming, are only overshadowed by the unrelenting pain suicide inflicts on surviving family and friends. Some professionals contend that suicide cannot be prevented but mitigated by focusing on providing alternative choices to desperate situations. That providing those in emotional distress with more appropriate choices to manage their feelings and instead of self harm, utilize different coping skills when overwhelmed.

To that end, open discussion about suicidal behavior and feelings as well as providing alternatives to self harm, are the goal of therapy and community support.
Providing tools to children and their families including crisis lines, access to mental health services and other professional support is key.

Recognition of potential risk factors that indicate emotional distress and could lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior is everyone’s responsibility.
Potential risk factors, described by AACAP (2004), include:

Prior suicide attempts
Substance Abuse
Change in sleeping/eating habits
Withdrawal from family and friends
Unusual neglect of personal appearance
Violent, rebellious behavior
Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
More severe psychiatric symptoms (psychosis)
Complain of feeling “bad” or “rotten” inside
Put his or her “affairs in order”
Verbalize suicidal thoughts or feelings

Underlying mental illness, lack of family and social support as well as limited coping skills also play a pivotal role in suicidal behavior.

How can we, as family, friends and community, help?
Some basic interventions include:
Take threats seriously; notify police or mental health professionals
Be suspicious when there are serious psychiatric symptoms or substance abuse issues
Keep lines of communication open
Seek professional support

Eastern Shore Psychological Services (ESPS) has therapists in all the Talbot County schools working hand in hand with the school guidance counselors ready to help.
ESPS offers mental health, substance abuse and wellness services for all ages. For those seeking mental health services, ESPS offers “same day access” appointments Monday – Thursday at 8 AM at their office at 29520 Canvasback Drive.  For more information, please contact the Clinic at 410-822-5007.

Laurence Pezor, MD is the Chief Medical Officer at Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with Eastern Shore Psychological Services.

 

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