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Dr. Joni Bhutra: How we can help stop teen suicide


Posted: December 23, 2010 9:12 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2010 4:55 a.m.

During this holiday season, while we are all listening for the material items our children may want, I hope we also listen for the emotional support they may need.

For our youth, life has definitely become complicated, with more pressures at school, college and home. This generation also suffers from peer pressure, bullying and just plain rejection from peers, not just in the lunchroom, but also through texts, chat rooms and social-network sites.

No sign that our youth needs our support and guidance speaks more to us than the fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death in the 10- to 24-year-old age group.

This means that suicide takes approximately 4,500 young lives each year. In Los Angeles alone, it is estimated that 300-400 children between these ages commit suicide each year.

Deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem.

More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. Each year, approximately 149,000 youth receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the United States.

A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9 to 12 in public and private schools found that 15 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 11 percent reported creating a plan and 7 percent reported trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.

Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide.

Of the reported suicides among our youth, 83 percent of the deaths were males and 17 percent were females. Cultural variations in suicide rates also exist, with Native American/Alaskan native and Hispanic youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities.

A special group to consider, given the recent string of teen suicides, is the gay and lesbian population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, youth suicide attempts in homosexual individuals are often associated with a history of childhood emotional disturbances.

Most of these disturbances are associated with pressures both inside and outside the home, whether it is verbal abuse, physical abuse or neglect, after gender atypical behavior.

As mentors of our youth, we should provide the factual and emotional guidance to help all children become more comfortable in their own skin, and help alleviate emotional, societal and familial problems often associated with childhood gender nonconformity.

Some factors that predispose youth to attempting suicide include a previous attempt, family history of suicide or mental illness and any type of drug abuse.

Moreover, we need to especially pay attention when our child’s personality changes dramatically, his schoolwork suffers dramatically, or he starts to use more dramatic language such as “That’s the last straw,” “I can’t take it anymore,” or “Nobody cares about me.”

Threatening to kill one self precedes four out of five suicidal deaths.

If you suspect that your teenager might be thinking about suicide, do not remain silent.

Suicide is preventable, but we all must act quickly.

If you are concerned about your teenager, talk to your child’s doctor about the available options and therapies including treatment for depression.

According to one study, 75 percent of the people who commit suicide are depressed.

If you suspect that a suicide attempt is imminent, you should seek professional help immediately (and never leave your teen alone). Talk to your teen about it and do not be afraid to say the word suicide. Getting the word out in the open may help your teenager think someone has heard his cries for help.

Ask him or her to talk about their feelings. Listen carefully. Do not dismiss problems or get angry.

According to the CDC, 90 percent of suicidal teenagers believed their families did not understand them. This population also reported that when they tried to tell their parents about their feelings of unhappiness or failure, their point of view was denied or ignored.

Take your child’s fears, threats and feelings seriously.

Attempt to remove objects that can be used as weapons from your home, including guns, pills, kitchen utensils and ropes.
Most importantly, reassure your teen that you love him or her.

Remind your teen that no matter how awful his problems seem, they can be worked out and you are willing to help.

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