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Dramatic Increase in Teen Suicide

CDC Reports Largest Spike in Teen Suicide Rate in 15 Years

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"It is important to recognize that suicide is a multidimensional and complex problem. As much as we would like to attribute it to a single source, we cannot do that," she said. "So while antidepressant medication may have role in suicidal ideation, it not the only factor."

"It is possible that some subgroups of patients do become worse when given antidepressants, but the larger population benefits," Thomas Laughren, MD, head of the FDA's psychiatric products division, said at the news conference. "It is possible for two different things to be happening at the same time. We will continue to monitor suicide rates and antidepressant prescribing and take whatever regulatory steps are necessary."

The new teen suicide statistics appear in the Sept. 7 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Is Your Child or Teen Suicidal?

The increased risk of suicide in young girls presents problems for prevention efforts. In the past, when three out of four suicides were male, suicide prevention focused on boys and young men. Prevention efforts also focused on firearms, which had been the most common method of suicide.

The September issue of the Journal of Pediatrics carries an updated review of teen suicide by Benjamin N. Shain, MD, PhD, of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and colleagues from the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescence.

"Unfortunately, no one can accurately predict suicide, so even experts can only determine who is at high risk," Shain and colleagues note.

Examples of high-risk teens include:

  • Teens with a plan or recent attempt to commit suicide
  • Teens who say they are going to kill themselves
  • Teens who talk about killing themselves and who become agitated or hopeless
  • Impulsive teens who become profoundly sad and who suffer conditions such as bipolar disorder, major depression, psychosis, or substance use disorders

Signs of major depression include:

  • Cranky mood
  • Preoccupation with song lyrics suggesting life is meaningless
  • Loss of interest in sports and usual activities
  • Failure to gain normal weight
  • Frequent complaints of physical illness such as headache and stomach ache
  • Excessive late-night TV watching
  • Refusal to wake for school in the morning
  • Talk of running away from home, or attempts to do so
  • Persistent boredom
  • Oppositional and/or negative behavior
  • Poor performance in school or frequent school absences
  • Recurrent talk of or writing about suicide
  • Giving away toys or belongings

Signs Not Always Obvious

Unfortunately, absence of high risk does not necessarily mean low risk. Kids who seem to be at low risk, but who joke about killing themselves or who repeatedly seek treatment for physical complaints, "may be asking for help the only way they can," Shain and colleagues suggest.

Any teen who suffers significant loss of function or distress due to emotional or behavioral symptoms should be closely observed, referred for a mental health evaluation, or both.

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