Why is suicide among kids on the rise?
In the fall of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that teenage suicides have increased 56% over the past decade. Age ranges span from 10-24 years old. Yes, we are seeing more and more middle school children dying by suicide than ever. And even though mental health experts and researchers are clear on the stats there is not one clear reason why this is occurring. In today's notes, I will share with you what some of the leading correlated factors are and share with you the tips that I share with the families that I work with.
A couple of weeks ago I received a call from a teacher from a school district that had experienced multiple suicides in just one month. She wanted to know if I could speak with her and some of the other teachers about how to talk to their own children and their students about these tragedies. As is natural, they were concerned about sharing too much information as they didn't want to give the kids any ideas that they may not have had.
I assured the teachers that the research shows that talking about suicide does not give children any ideas, it is an important and powerful conversation that needs to be had. Starting as early as age 8, parents can start talking about mental health. In this mental health talk you can share information about your own family's history as well as general conversations about depression and anxiety in general.
The teachers I spoke with had children ranging from 7 to 17. We discussed age appropriate ways to address the different age ranges from, "we are so sad that that student died to that student may have suffered from depression and sometimes when kids are depressed they feel hopeless and think suicide is the only way out."
I encouraged the teachers to stay fairly brief in their replies and to wait and see if the kids they were talking to had any questions or thoughts they wanted to share. I really emphasized that because when people are nervous they tend to over-talk and not listen very well. I wanted them speak slower than they normally would and then hold pauses longer than they normally would as well.
If the students stayed quiet or said they had no questions I offered the following prompting questions to see if they may engage:
What have you heard about this person?
What do you know about suicide?
What are your feelings about suicide?
What would you do if you ever felt really sad and alone?
What have you done in the past when you have been depressed and out of solutions?
It is natural that people want to know why this is happening. And while there is not one specific cause, we think that there are a few factors that may be contributing to suicide being the second leading cause of death among teens only behind accidents.
1) Social Media - we know that the more exposure a teen has to social media depression goes up and self esteem goes down.
2) Pressure - many tweens and teens feel pressure to be excellent students, all-star athletes and contend with hours of homework paired with being overly scheduled. At their young ages, they sometimes can't think of ways out of this trap and start to feel hopeless.
I ended my conversation with the teachers talking about prevention. I shared with them the following ideas that I often share with parents as well:
- Let kids experiences adversity and failure at young ages so that when they get older they know what it feel like and are more likely to have resiliency
- Make sure families are talking about family history of mental health issues
- Do not over schedule kids - embrace down time, relaxation, mental health days off and boredom
- Go to a pediatrician who screens for depression and suicide at every well check
- Stay involved in your kids life. Talk to them about friends, bullying and coping skills
- Limit social media - no matter how much your kid pushes back or guilts you, limiting their time on their phones and screens might be one of the bravest and healthiest things you can do for your kid
- Find natural opportunities to talk about or watch a show or movie together that highlights someone struggling and then how they got through their challenge
- Last, know the warning signs of suicide and don't ignore them if you see them, act quickly if you suspect your child is considering suicide.
Top warning signs include: speaking or posting about death or suicide, hopelessness, saying goodbye, giving away possessions, or engaging in self destructive behaviors.
If you need help The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24 hours a day. There is also an online chat line available 24/7. Last, there is a National Crisis Text Line where you can text HOME to 741741 to get a response 24/7 from a trained counselor.
Suicide is not a matter of if it will affect your child it is more of a matter of when it will somehow impact your child. Start early in your conversations, be open and non-judgmental.