A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that one in 25 teenagers has tried to commit suicide and one in eight have thought about it. This suggests teenage years are an especially vulnerable time because these numbers are similar to the prevalence of lifetime suicidal thinking and attempts in adults.
Matthew Nock, a psychologist who worked on the study at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA said, “What adults say is, the highest risk time for first starting to think about suicide is in adolescence,” according to Reuters Health.
Researchers conducted in-person interviews of nearly 6,500 teenagers in the US and had questionnaires completed by their parents. They asked the teens about their suicidal thinking, plans, and attempts. Researchers also determined which teens had any mental disorders.
Researchers discovered that almost all of the teens who thought about or attempted suicide had a mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or problems with drugs or alcohol. More than half of the teenagers were already being treated for their suicidal behavior.
Nock told Reuters Health:
“We know that a lot of the kids who are at risk and thinking about suicide are getting (treatment). We don’t know how to stop them – we don’t have any evidence-based treatments for suicidal behavior.”
According to Yahoo News, Amy Brausch, a psychologist who has studied adolescent self-harm and suicide at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, said the finding shouldn’t be interpreted to mean mental health treatment doesn’t work for teens. Brausch said:
“We don’t know from this study if they even told their therapist they were having these thoughts, we don’t know if it was a focus of the treatment.”
Nock told Reuters Health most youth who think about suicide never make a plan or attempt. So doctors need to be better at figuring out which ones are more at risk of trying. Once the suicidal teenagers are identified researchers need to be able to determine how to treat them Nock added.
The CDC, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between age 10 and 24. Suicide kills about 4,600 youths annually. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide, a finding that was supported by Nock’s study. However, boys have a higher rate of death because they choose deadlier methods, such as guns, than girls do.
Brausch advised parents to keep open communication with their children and to not be afraid to ask about things like depression. Changes in mood and behavior need to be watched for she said.
Nock said, “For parents, if they suspect their child is thinking about suicide… or talking about death, I would have that child evaluated.”