Should Doctors Screen for Teen Suicide?

teen-suicide-2Here’s a shocking statistic: suicide is now regarded as the second leading cause of death among adolescents.

According to the latest American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report, suicide has dramatically risen since 2007 to become the second most common form of death among teens. In 2007, when the original report was published, suicide was the third leading cause of death; now it has surpassed homicide and unintentional—but fatal—injuries to reach that near-penultimate spot.

And now, experts advise that pediatricians should pursue more information about emotional and psychological health in their teenage patients. Furthermore, doctors should inquire about things like mood disorders, drug or alcohol use, sexual orientation and activity, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and a host of other risk factors for suicide to screen for it.

Indeed, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital adolescent psychiatry researcher, Dr. Bernard Bierman, notes that there is a vast shortage of psychiatrists and mental health professionals and that is not an easy problem for the health industry to address.
He advises, “Access to mental health services is increasingly challenging due to funding cuts, insurance restrictions and other barriers to care.”

While he was not involved in the study, Biermann also goes on to say, “Adolescence is a time of tremendous stress and it seems like today’s teens have unusually high, often unreasonable, expectations for themselves. As a result, depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns are increasingly common as are maladaptive behaviors such as substance abuse, self-injury, eating disorders and other forms of unhealthy coping.”

Supporting this research, Dr. Benjamin Shain reported, in the journal Pediatrics, that approximately 1,750 teens between the ages of 15 to 19 were successful in their suicide attempts in 2013. It is also important to observe that one in 50 to 100 (so 1 to 2 percent) of all suicide attempts are successful.

Of course, teen girls are still twice as likely as boys to attempt suicide but boys are still three times more likely to succeed. This is because girls tend to choose more strategies that allow time for more intervention while boys tend to choose strategies that are more definite and immediate.

The study noted that bullying is largely associated with suicide risk but it appears to negatively affect not only the victim, but also the perpetrator. Similarly, bullying has increased because of the internet but authorities also say that the Internet can be a safe haven for teens to find others who are coping with the same issues.

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