Thoughts about killing oneself and engaging in suicidal behavior may begin much younger than previously thought. While about one of nine youths attempt suicide by the time they graduate from high school, new findings reveal that a significant proportion make their first suicide attempt in elementary or middle school.
In a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, nearly 40 percent of young adults who said they had tried suicide said that they made their first attempt before entering high school.
The researchers also found that suicide attempts during childhood and adolescence were linked to higher scores of depression at the time of the attempts, validating for the first time that young adults can reliably recall when they first attempted suicide.
“Young adults who end up having chronic mental health problems show their struggles early,” said James Mazza, lead author and professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington. “This study suggests that implementation of mental health programs may need to start in elementary and middle schools, and that youth in these grades are fairly good reporters of their own mental health.”
I’ll be conducting an all-day workshop for educators on Monday, December 5, 2011 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord, New Hampshire. The event is sponsored by the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability and is geared to regular and special education teachers, school psychologists and social workers, behavior specialists, occupational therapists, administrators, and parents.
Neurological disorders that emerge in childhood often have significant impact on students’ academic, behavioral, and social-emotional functioning. Participants will learn about the cardinal features of Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Executive Dysfunction, Mood Disorders such as Depression and Bipolar Disorder, and the memory deficits, sensory issues and “storms” that sometimes accompany them. Strategies and assistive technology to accommodate symptom interference in activities such as handwriting, homework, math calculation, and written expression and big projects will be described. Pitfalls in behavioral interventions, and simple social skills and problem-solving interventions will also be identified.
Hope to see you there!
Kayt Sukel of The Dana Foundation writes:
From a distance, Callie1 appears to be a normal if quiet 5-year-old girl. But when faced with a toy that blows large soap bubbles—an activity that makes the vast majority of kindergarteners squeal and leap with delight—she is uninterested in popping the bubbles or taking a turn with the gun herself. When offered dolls or other toys, she is equally unmoved. When groups of children congregate to play, Callie does not join them. Even at home, she is quiet and withdrawn. While Callie’s mother explains this lack of interest in play as simple “shyness,” researchers are now discovering that children as young as 3 years of age can meet the clinical criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD). What’s more, they demonstrate patterns of brain activation very similar to those seen in adults diagnosed with the disorder.
Read more about what the research shows on The Dana Foundation.
Early recognition of depression is crucial on so many levels, but as the reporter notes, treatment for children this young is particularly challenging. We simply do not have enough controlled research on non-medication interventions that may be of benefit to young children with mood disorders.
A news report by John Keilman shows how some schools are trying to reduce teen suicide by increasing awareness about it and screening students:
The paper handed to each freshman at Oak Lawn Community High School recently was filled with blunt and uncomfortable questions. Had they lost interest in everything? Did they feel they weren’t as smart or good-looking as most other people? Were they thinking about killing themselves?
A squad of counselors stood by to interview those who, based on their answers, might have been struggling with depression or contemplating suicide. By the end of the day, more than 50 teenagers had come to see them.
Read the full article in the L.A. Times. As the article makes clear, it is not whether this type of initiative is really effective in reducing the suicide rate and there are significant privacy concerns to consider that require allowing students or their parents to elect not to participate.
That said, and as uncomfortable as it may be, I am generally in strong favor of teaching students about teen depressions, its signs, and what to do if they feel that they are depressed or that a friend is depressed.
If your teen’s school hasn’t provided information, feel free to download these 2001 handouts for teens from the National Institute of Mental Health: What To Do When a Friend is Depressed and Let’s Talk About Depression. The articles are in the public domain and you can reproduce them and share them with others or use them in class to start a discussion.
Study finds sharp monthly fluctuations in levels of adolescent male visits to emergency department for drug related suicide attempts
An important press release from SAMHSA:
A new study examining monthly and seasonal trends in the number of emergency department visits involving drug related suicide attempts reveals considerable fluctuations among adolescent males. The rate for the general population varies little.
The study conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showed that only 2.5 percent of drug related suicide attempt emergency room visits by males aged 12-17 occur in February – as opposed to 18.9 percent reported in December.
December also marked the highest level of emergency department drug related suicide attempt visits by men aged 50 and older (12.9 percent). The lowest level of visits for males in this age group was in October (5.5 percent).
By comparison, the study showed that the rate of visits remained relatively constant for the rest of the population including males aged 18 to 49.
“Emergency departments present an opportunity to intervene in a way that can help prevent future attempts, said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D. “While the study does not identify the factors that lead to fluctuations in drug related suicide attempts, it does point to the need for additional research in the factors that play a role in suicidality , particularly among both younger and older males.
The study found that from 2004 to 2008, on average, each year emergency departments dealt with 178,423 visits for drug-related suicide attempts by patients 12 or older. Overall the number of visits reported by emergency departments ranged from12,656 in February (7.1 percent) to 16, 812 visits in September (9.4 percent).
The study’s findings are being announced in conjunction with today’s meeting of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, a public/private partnership (including SAMHSA) to update and advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. The Alliance’s goal is to enhance efforts to address what has become the foremost, preventable public-health tragedy in our nation: suicide. One of the meeting’s specific goals is to more effectively deliver suicide prevention services and messages to high-risk groups. The Action Alliance is engaging every sector of society, public, private and philanthropic to help reach people at risk and help them stay safe.
The study, Monthly and Seasonal Variation in Emergency Department Visits for Drug-Related Suicide Attempts: 2004 to 2008 is an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues. The report is part of SAMHSA’s Strategic Initiative on Data, Outcomes, and Quality and is based on SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report. DAWN is a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits reported throughout the nation. A copy of the study is available at http://oas.samhsa.gov/2k11/DAWN019/SuicideBySeason.cfm
For more information related to suicide prevention, visit:
For additional information about SAMHSA programs, please visit http://www.samhsa.gov/