Suicide Prevention Week: Addressing Adolescent Suicide


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 to 24, and the fourth leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 14.

“Suicide is a real threat to young people,” says Lauren Solotar, Ph.D., ABPP, May Institute’s Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Psychologist. “Thoughts, talk, and concerns about suicide should always be taken seriously.”

More girls than boys attempt suicide, often using drugs in their unsuccessful attempts. Boys are more likely to succeed in killing themselves, often using firearms. Out of every 100 adolescent suicide attempts, one is successful.

“I’m often asked what makes young people want to die,” says Dr. Solotar. “There are many reasons that range from a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, to family arguments, to legal problems. Depression is a leading cause of suicide and impulsive behavior may contribute.” According to Dr. Solotar, suicide may be a way for an adolescent to express anger, get relief from debilitating depression, or escape a difficult situation.

Adolescents at risk for committing suicide include those who:

  • have previously attempted suicide
  • have a family history of suicide
  • have biochemical imbalances
  • have psychological problems such as problems with anger
  • often behave impulsively
  • are “loners” and don’t have many friends
  • feel they can never live up to the expectations of others

The risks for suicide are increased if a young person knows someone who has committed suicide. In addition, the regular use/abuse of alcohol or drugs makes suicide more likely, as does the availability of firearms.

Young children may also make suicide attempts by engaging in high-risk behavior. Some behaviors noted are running across busy streets without looking, jumping out of moving vehicles, or leaning close to an open window. The children engaging in these behaviors need to be carefully assessed when they are discovered.

“Young people and parents need to understand that if they are at all concerned about someone committing suicide, they should talk about it with the person,” continues Dr. Solotar. “Talking about suicide does not ‘make’ anyone actually do it. Some of the classic warning signs of a possible suicide attempt may include:

  • written or verbal statements about death or the desire to end one’s life
  • giving away personal possessions
  • abrupt changes in mood or behavior, such as ending long-term friendships
  • signs of depressions such as changes in eating and sleeping, apathy, etc.”

What can you do to help prevent suicide? Dr. Solotar makes the following suggestions:

  • watch for signs
  • help adolescents improve/develop problem-solving skills
  • teach stress management/reduction techniques
  • find appropriate professional help

The highly trained professionals at May Institute’s Counseling Centers in Walpole and West Roxbury, Mass., offer comprehensive services for key emotional and behavioral concerns including: anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, women’s issues, and school and learning difficulties.

If you are in a crisis and need help right away call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.

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