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Teen Suicide Prevention: What Everyone Should Know

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September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and this year it’s more important than ever before for parents, healthcare providers, teachers, and teenagers themselves to understand the key elements of teen suicide prevention. The teen mental health crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to be one of the most pressing challenges of our time. The collective trauma and loss have nearly doubled the number of people having thoughts of suicide and experiencing depression compared to previous years, according to the CDC.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2022, which includes World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) and Suicide Prevention Week (September 4–10), offers an opportunity for mental health and youth organizations to bring this topic out into the open, so teens know that they are not alone. As part of this effort, Newport Academy is partnering for the sixth year in a row with To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) to amplify the conversation about teen suicide prevention and to take action to reverse the increasing rate of youth suicide. TWLOHA is a non-profit dedicated to combating depression and suicide among teens and providing resources for suicidal teens.

TWLOHA’s 2022 campaign theme is “You Are Not a Burden.” The organization’s goal is to raise $250,000 for treatment and recovery, funding individual and group therapy sessions as well as resources available in the organization’s “Find Help” tool.

“We are grateful for all that TWLOHA does to raise awareness, promote prevention, and erase the stigma of suicide. Remaining idle is not an option when so many are struggling with thoughts of self-harm and hopelessness amplified by the pandemic. Newport is proud to play a part in helping people access much-needed treatment so that they can see the importance of living another day.”

—Joe Procopio, CEO, Newport Healthcare

Teenage Suicide Facts

The pandemic has had a measurable impact on teen suicide statistics. Rates of suicidal ideation and attempts among teens were nearly twice as high during the first half of 2020 as compared to 2019. The significant negative effect of the pandemic on adolescent well-being continues to have ongoing repercussions.

However, even before the pandemic began, rates of suicide in youth in the United States were the highest in recorded history. According to an April 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have risen by 35 percent since the start of the 21st century. And the suicide rates among teens are of particular concern.

2022 Statistics on Depression and Suicide in Teens

Studies examining depression and suicide among teens reveal the following troubling statistics.

  • In the past 10 years, suicide rates among young people ages 10–17 have increased by more than 70 percent.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among ages 15–24.
  • Every day in the United States, there are more than 3,000 suicide attempts by high school students, according to the Jason Foundation.
  • Current teen suicidal stats from the National Alliance on Mental Illness show that 20 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 9 percent have made suicide attempts.
  • Rates of suicide in youth are twice as high in Black teens as compared to their white peers, according to the American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry. Among Black male teens, the suicide rate increased by 60 over the past two decades.
  • Adolescent suicide rates significantly increased in a number of states during the pandemic.
  • Half of LGBTQ teens considered suicide in the past year, and 18 percent made a suicide attempt.
  • The number of teens admitted to children’s hospitals as a result of suicidal thoughts or self-harm has more than doubled during the last decade.
  • The United States faces a severe shortage of practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists, with over 85 percent of doctor’s offices reporting difficulty locating mental healthcare providers for their patients under 18.

Sources: National Center for Health StatisticsCenters for Disease Control and PreventionJournal of Abnormal Psychology, Trevor Project, American Association of Suicidology

New Research on Suicide Among Adolescent Girls

New statistics show the devastating impact of the pandemic on the mental health of teen girls in particular. CDC research found that emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12–17 increased by 50 percent during a specific time period last year.

While teen girls are more likely than boys to report symptoms of anxiety and depression, they are also more apt to hide the emotional pain that leads to suicidal behavior. Hence, suicides by female adolescents often are unexpected. Furthermore, impulsivity is a key risk factor in suicide, and teen girls are likely to be impulsive. In addition, recent research shows that the black-and-white thinking patterns of teen girls may make them more prone to suicidal ideation and behavior. 

But that doesn’t mean that teen boys are not at risk. A 2019 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), pinpointed a spike in suicides among older teenage boys—up to 17.9 per 1000,000 in 2017. In addition, while males are less likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression, they are nearly four times as likely to die by suicide, because they tend to use deadlier methods.

Teenage Suicide Causes and Risk Factors

Many factors can contribute to the risk of adolescent suicide. Risk factors do not cause teen suicide, but they may contribute to a teen’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt.

The top reasons for teenage suicide include the following:

  • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders
  • Family history of suicide
  • A history of substance abuse
  • Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma
  • Social isolation or bullying
  • Losing a family member through death or divorce
  • Financial or job loss
  • Conflict within relationships
  • Starting or changing psychotropic medications
  • Feeling stigmatized
  • Lack of support.

Questions to Ask a Teen You’re Concerned About …

What do you worry about?

How do you feel about growing up?

Is bullying a problem at your school?

What do you wish was different?

What helps you cope? 

What Are Suicidal Thoughts?

For every person who attempts or completes suicide, many more suffer from suicidal ideation. Suicidal ideation is defined as having suicidal thoughts—thoughts of ending one’s life. This is much more common than we might imagine.

However, thinking about suicide does not necessarily mean that a teen will make an actual suicide attempt. Many teens may think about suicide, but their suicidal thoughts do not progress to suicide plans or suicide attempts.

Moreover, suicidal thoughts can also become a cognitive habit, an ongoing mental pattern. Such thoughts often result from depression, or from a desire to escape a situation that seems impossible to handle.

Suicidal thoughts can quickly escalate to a suicide attempt, so teens suffering from suicidal ideation need treatment before any actual planning begins. Youth suicide prevention is most effective when signs are caught early and a suicidal teenager receives effective mental health support immediately.

Preventing Teenage Suicide: Suicide Warning Signs

During the back-to-school season, parents, teachers, coaches, and others who work or live with adolescents need to be particularly vigilant as teens adjust to new schedules and expectations. Here are some of the warning signs indicating that a teen is considering suicide.

  • Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Changes in weight, appearance, or sleep habits
  • Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm
  • Isolating themselves and withdrawing from friends
  • Searching online for methods of committing suicide
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away prized possessions
  • Trouble concentrating and/or a drop in academic performance
  • Migraines, frequent stomachaches, or other physical complaints
  • Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
  • Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of depression.

If you see any of these signs, take the following actions for preventing teenage suicide and accessing help for a suicidal teenager:

  1. Do not leave the person alone.
  2. Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including firearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
  3. Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  4. Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Ways to Prevent Suicide in Youth

Along with risk factors, there are also factors that assist in teenage suicide prevention. The following resources and skills are helpful in preventing teenage suicide:

  • Access to treatment for mental health, physical health, and substance abuse disorders, including suicide assessment when warranted
  • Family and community support
  • Skills in problem-solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes
  • Tools for coping and emotional self-regulation
  • Cultural and/or religious beliefs that discourage suicide.

Suicide can be the tragic result of untreated depression. Thus, treatment for depression is a vital factor in teenage suicide prevention. With suicidal depression, different forms of individual therapy contribute toward sustainable healing. Furthermore, such treatment is also essential for suicide attempt survivors.

Newport Academy Mental Health Resources Teen Suicide Prevention Symptoms

Teen Suicide Prevention: Treatment Approaches

For a suicidal teenager, treatment should include a variety of clinical and experiential modalities to address the multiple factors that leave teens vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and attempts. The following evidence-based modalities are proven to prevent depression and suicide in teens.

Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT) is specifically designed to address depression and the risk of teen suicide, by repairing ruptured relationships between parents and teens. As a result, young people feel safe enough to turn to their parents for support when they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) brings clarity to what a teen is thinking and feeling. CBT identifies the emotions that often result in a sense of isolation. Consequently, it identifies the self-defeating thoughts and assumptions that make life more difficult. CBT provides valuable insight for the depressed teen.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) provides specific skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that DBT is particularly effective in reducing suicidal attempts and self-harm among adolescents. Teens learn to recognize the sensations in their body when dangerous impulses arise, put those feelings into words, and use simple techniques to shift their nervous system.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) leads to transformation and healing. This therapy helps teens make positive choices. MET helps resolve any initial resistance to treatment.

Experiential modalities, such as art therapy and music therapy, give teens ways to process their emotions through self-expression and body-based practices.

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Additionally, developing positive coping and relaxation skills for managing stress can help protect teens against suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

Contact Newport Academy today to learn more about how we prevent suicide in teens by supporting adolescents to build resilience and healthy coping skills to navigate the stressors of growing up in today’s world.

5 Key Takeaways on Teenage Suicide Prevention

During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2022, which includes World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) and Suicide Prevention Week (September 4–10), mental health and youth organizations raise awareness and funds for youth suicide prevention.

In the past 10 years, suicide rates among young people ages 10–17 have increased by more than 70 percent. Youth suicide rates are particularly high among LGBTQ teens, girls, and Black adolescents.

Risk factors for teen suicide include a history of depression or anxiety, lack of support, being bullied, and experiencing violence, abuse, or other types of trauma.

Parents, teachers, coaches, and others who work or live with adolescents need to familiarize themselves with teen suicide warning signs (listed above) and be particularly vigilant during back-to-school season as teens adjust to new schedules and expectations.

For a suicidal teenager, treatment should include a variety of clinical and experiential modalities to address the multiple factors that leave teens vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Sources:

JAMA Pediatr. 2022;176(7): 724–726.

CDC Weekly. 2021 Jun;70(24); 888–894.

Pediatrics. 2021 Mar: 147(3).

Lancet. 2020 Jun;7(6): 468–471.

JAMA. 2019;321(23): 2362–2364.

JAMA Psychiatry. 2018; 75(8): 777–785.