Suicide Prevention

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide was the third leading cause of death in Americans aged 15 to 24 years in 2000.

While many Americans have the anniversary of 9/11 on their minds, I think it’s appropriate to point out that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The International Association for Suicide Prevention web site has a list of local activities going on, including some in the United States, and a handy flier that you can post in your office.

I don’t think that most parents understand that suicide attempts among adolescents are not uncommon. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide was the third leading cause of death in Americans aged 15 to 24 years in 2000. It doesn’t help matters that many of the risk factors look like what most people would call typical teenage behaviors, so parents need information that will help them recognize when they should be concerned.

Perhaps I don’t need to bring this up. But I think back to a classmate’s suicide during my college years, and how it affected all the kids on campus who knew him. It was during the 1980’s when things were going relatively well in the US, and most of us perceived the world in a very different way than kids do today. There had not been a terrorist attack by foreigners on mainland soil. There had been no Columbine, and there was no heated debate over whether teachers should be able to carry guns into schools. There was no war in Iraq, and no one heard about Al Qaeda and the Taliban night after night in the evening news. My mother and father were living in a comfortable house, saving for retirement, had access to affordable healthcare and enough money to pay their bills.

How this state of American life came to be could be debated ad nauseum. The bottom line is that Americans have bequeathed to their next generation a world that is markedly less safe and welcoming than in recent history, and this situation exposes kids to sources of stress that previous generations haven’t had to deal with. I don’t think that anyone was surprised with the report last year that the rate of suicide among adolescents had the largest annual increase seen in 15 years.

The latest and greatest AAP policy statement was published last year in Pediatrics, if you haven’t had a chance to look over it recently.