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Mental Health Center

Dramatic Increase in Teen Suicide

CDC Reports Largest Spike in Teen Suicide Rate in 15 Years
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Is Your Child or Teen Suicidal? continued...

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.

A brief psychological intervention may be all teens need if they have a responsive and intact family, good relationships with their peers, hope for the future, and a desire to resolve conflicts.

Hospitalization and long-term psychiatric care may be needed for teens who:

  • Have made previous suicide attempts
  • Show a strong intent to commit suicide
  • Have serious depression or other major psychiatric disorders
  • Abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Have low impulse control

If a teen has made a suicide attempt, it's crucial to keep up continuous psychological care after hospital discharge. It's important to continue treatment of underlying psychiatric illnesses, to remove firearms from the home, and to lock up potentially lethal medications. Getting the teen to agree to a "no suicide" contract has not been proven effective.

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