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Suicide Among Youth
What's the Problem?
More people die by suicide than by homicide in the United States. Suicide rates among youth have been increasing steadily for the past four decades; suicide is the third leading cause of death among children and youth between the ages of 10 and 24. In the United States, nearly 60% of suicides are committed with a firearm.
Who's at Risk?
Suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940's. Possible risk factors include: unauthorized access to firearms; alcohol use at home; exposure to previous suicides; and residential mobility that might lessen opportunities for developing social networks.
In 1998, males accounted for 80% of all suicides in the U.S. Between 1979 and 1992, suicide rates for Native Americans (a category that includes American Indians and Alaska Natives) were about 1.5 greater than the national rate. Suicides among young Native American males age 15-24 accounted for 64% of all Native American suicides during this period. Suicide among black youths has also increased sharply in recent years: From 1980 to 1992, the rate for black teens age 15-19 more than doubled, from 3.6 per 100,000 to 8.1 per 100,000. Although white teens still have higher suicide rates, the gap is narrowing.
Can It Be Prevented?
A number of prevention efforts are aimed at detecting suicide warning signs. Signals that a young person may be contemplating suicide include: 1) attempted suicide at least once; 2) making plans to take his/her own life, drafting a will, or giving away cherished valuables; and 3) personality or behavior changes, or indications of clinical depression (changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, and thoughts of death or suicide).
Prevention efforts cover a wide range: school gatekeeper programs, community gatekeeper programs, general suicide education, screening programs, peer support programs, crisis centers and hotlines, restriction of access to lethal means, and interventions (with peers) after a suicide. Adults who supervise a young person can possibly deter suicide through recognition of the warning signs. They can also urge a potentially suicidal young person to talk things over with a counselor or a professional before considering any actions.
Tips for Scripts
- INFORM viewers of the warning signs that lead to contemplation of suicide in young people.
- ENCOURAGE viewers to familiarize themselves with community resources, such as mental health centers, school programs, or other intervention resources.
- A mother watches her teenage son Chip grow more withdrawn over the course of several months. She begins to worry about his overall well-being. Her attempts to ask him what is wrong are unsuccessful. She decides to call a local crisis center for teens. A health professional explains the warning signs of suicide. The mother, fearful that Chip may already be contemplating such an act, takes him to the crisis center. She hopes an initial visit will offer him an outlet for therapy.
- Students begin a new high school health education class where the instructor discusses plans to include mental health issues in the curriculum. The instructor then discusses teenage suicide, explaining that it is a common problem. She describes changes in teenager's emotional state that can lead to suicide attempts. The students realize that they have learned an invaluable lesson and they can identify risk factors associated with suicide.
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