Teenaged suicide: What you should know

October 27, 2013

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for United States youth aged between 10 and 24 years, reported Robert Sege, MD, PhD, director, Division of Family and Child Advocacy, Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, in an AAP session on Saturday, October 26, titled “Dying to be young: Teen suicide, screening, and prevention.”

 

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for United States youth aged between 10 and 24 years, reported Robert Sege, MD, PhD, director, Division of Family and Child Advocacy, Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, in an AAP session on Saturday, October 26, titled “Dying to be young: Teen suicide, screening, and prevention.”

Sege says that suicide attempts by teenagers are different from those made by adults “because teens are quite impulsive.” Precipitating events for young people are often very “transient” and consist of something such as “my mother was mad at me” or “my girlfriend dumped me.” He says that those of us who survive adolescence realize both how common these issues are and how quickly they come and go.

The second point Sege makes, and one that he says “parents really need to understand,” is that the presence or availability of a firearm dramatically increases the likelihood that a young person will die from a suicide attempt. He reports that 90% of young people who attempt suicide and fail never attempt again. Overwhelmingly, they get through the temporary crisis in their lives and go on to live a long time. “Obviously, firearms don’t allow that,” Sege comments. They almost always insure success.

The third point, Sege continues, is the importance of screening for depression and suicide among adolescents. He says that many of the teenagers who successfully commit suicide had an undiagnosed mental illness.

Lastly, Sege touches on the phenomenon of “suicide contagion,” which pertains to the copycat suicide attempts that frequently follow an attempted or successful suicide by an adolescent. He points to a rash of copycat suicides that occurred about 4 years ago among Palo Alto, California, high school students following an incident in which a teenager threw himself in front of an oncoming commuter train. Sege says it often takes the community to stand up and stop the contagion. In Palo Alto, parents organized themselves and literally took shifts sitting on folding chairs by the train tracks to prevent the loss of any more of their children.