A Leading Cause of Death in Teens
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, and despite public awareness, the suicide rate continues to grow at a staggering pace.
In a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2016, only one state in the United States registered a decrease in suicide rates. The other 49 individually reported at least a six percent increase, with some states seeing suicide rates grow by nearly 58 percent.
Mark Reinecke, PhD, chief psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says a combination of factors likely have contributed to this increase, including economic stress, prevalence of negative media images, substance abuse and a stigma around mental health care.
Today, the suicide epidemic is particularly concerning for teens. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death in 15- to 19-year-olds. Throughout adolescence, teens and young adults experience major physical, social, emotional and psychological changes. These changes, and the subsequent feelings of stress, uncertainty, fear, confusion, hopelessness and external pressure, can lead some youth to feel overmatched and to see suicide as their only option. But it isn’t.
Risk Factors for Suicide
Adolescence is a time of change, so different risk factors can arise or be more prevalent at different times for young adults. Some risk factors include:
- Existing mental or substance use disorders — depression, anxiety, pessimism, frustration and alcohol use are most common
- Impulsive behaviors and tendencies
- Prior suicide attempt(s) or self-injurious behaviors (such as cutting)
- Firearm in the household
- Family history of suicide
- Exposure to suicidal behaviors of others
Suicide Warning Signs
These red flags can be signs of suicidal thoughts or symptoms of depression:
- Changes in eating and sleeping behaviors
- Alcohol and drug use
- Withdrawal from friends and family members
- Neglect of personal appearance
- Lack of response to praise
- Talking about or otherwise indicating plans to commit suicide or self-harm
Pay attention to those around you, and note irregular behaviors and actions, especially any direct indicators of self-injury.
Dr. Reinecke says there’s no simple answer for how to respond to a warning sign, but if you see a red flag, don’t ignore it. “The first thing to do is to take it seriously,” he says.
As Dr. Reinecke notes, it is important to acknowledge that threats of suicide reflect feelings of desperation and hopelessness. The person views problems as insurmountable, intolerable and unsolvable. Suicidal comments, then, can be cries for help. Take these statements seriously, and reach out and have a discussion about the person’s mental health. Make sure to always consult a physician or a mental health professional for assessment and treatment. Help is available, and evidence-based treatments work.
Northwestern Medicine extends comprehensive consultations, treatment plans and support for a full range of behavioral health issues. Specialists provide research-based treatments, care that’s tailored to individual needs, one-on-one therapy and family involvement in the treatment process.
Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health Services (BHS) in St. Charles, Illinois, offers comprehensive diagnostic assessment and treatment for emotional health conditions and disorders affecting adults and adolescents ages 13 and older. BHS outpatient services focus on helping patients regain healthy, fully functional daily lives. BHS professional staff helps patients address emotional, behavioral, social, family and work issues through customized programs, including evidence-based individual, group and family therapies.
Suicide Prevention: QPR
It may be difficult to have a conversation about mental health, but it is critical, especially with teens and young adults.
If you are talking with someone who is in crisis, Dr. Reinecke recommends QPR, a three-step plan designed to help save lives from suicide.
- Question the person about suicide.
- Persuade the person to seek help.
- Refer the person to appropriate professional services.
In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers around-the-clock, free and confidential support to those in need. There are also resources tailored to sexual and gender minorities. The Trevor Project is a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. The organization and its trained professionals offer several immediate support resources, including a 24/7 crisis and suicide hotline.
If you or someone you love is experiencing feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255, or visit your nearest emergency department.