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Friday, September 22, 2023

Suicide in adolescents: the other pandemic that stalks young people across the country

teen suicide

The first call to attention for Leonor, grandmother of "Itzi", a 13-year-old girl who is under her care, was that her granddaughter had attitudes that she did not normally have before, she withdrew from everyone, did not want to eat, stopped eating wanting to go to his extra-curricular activities and eventually found out that he was self-inflicting cuts on his arms. She thought it was age and let it go, two months later she had to rush to the emergency room with her granddaughter after she ingested a large amount of life-threatening medication. 

Itzi, as her grandmother affectionately tells her, was lucky and did not die, but today Leonor blames herself for not having paid more attention and for ignoring the signs. 

Suicide is a serious public health problem in all age groups. Among the young, it exacts a huge toll in significant years of potential life lost. In 2020 alone, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-24 and 25-34. 

This is reported by the organization America's Health Rankings, who points out that, in addition to those who die by suicide, there are many more adolescents who have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide and survive. 

Suicidal ideation, attempt and completion of youth are on the rise. Results from the 2019 Youth Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System show that 18.8 percent of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, while 8.9 percent actually did. 

The organization estimated that the cost of suicide in the United States in 2019 was $926 billion in medical costs, lost productivity, and statistical value of life.

Statistics show that the teen suicide rate is higher among males compared to females. However, women attempt suicide more often than men.

American Indian/Alaska Native teens have the highest suicide rates compared to other racial and ethnic groups, followed by white teens, and then those from the Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and African-descendant communities. 

The numbers show that suicide attempts are higher among students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual compared to students who identify as heterosexual.

Healthy People 2030, belonging to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion ?OASH, for its acronym in English? which is part of the US government and which sets data-driven national goals to improve health and well-being over the next decade, notes that the teen suicide situation continues to worsen.

Until 2019, the latest data on the matter from the federal agency, there are 8.9 suicide attempts per 100 inhabitants, while in 2017 there were 2.4 per 100 inhabitants. The goal for 2030 is 1.8 per 100 inhabitants.

The most affected states in the American union are Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alaska and West Virginia, followed by North Dakota, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri , Arkansas, Kentucky and Vermont.

Without specifying the age or ethnicity or race of those who have committed suicide so far in 2022, the File of Gun Violence points out that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -CDC, for its acronym in English ?, from January 1 to December 3 of this year, 22 thousand 374 suicides due to a firearm have been registered.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Association declared a National Child and Adolescent Mental Health Emergency after observing the COVID-19 pandemic. intensified the adolescent suicide crisis.

“We are serving youth with skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have a lasting impact on them, their families, and their communities. We must identify strategies to meet these challenges through innovation and action, using state, local, and national approaches to improve access and quality of care throughout the continuum of mental health promotion, prevention, and treatment." they said in a joint letter as a call to policy makers at all levels of government and advocates for children and adolescents.

Leonor, a Mexican immigrant and who does not have a residence, has told Peninsula 360 Press that navigating between clinics, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists has not been easy for her and her granddaughter. 

«Having real and good help is not easy. The costs ?outside? they are very high and we do not have insurance to help us pay for medicines, specialists and therapies. As immigrants we are alone and on our own, but while our children are dying. Sometimes I feel very desperate and I also went into crisis, but I will do whatever it takes to help my girl," she said.

«I don't know about social networks and stuff, but I had to learn. She spent her time there and didn't want to put the phone down. I feel like that hurt him even more. He would stay until 3 or sometimes 4 in the morning. How long have you been there? I would ask and she would tell me that I didn't care and that they were her friends. Now I'm more into it. Organizations helped us. He has his phone back, but now there are rules and he knows that he can't do it all the time. It is very difficult to know how to help our youth, but it can be done. Seek help," added Leonor.

For Dr. Megan Moreno, professor of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and principal investigator of the university's research team on social networks and adolescence, social networks amplify the anxiety that adolescents have.

The specialist pointed out to the non-profit organization AARP that the almost normalization of suicide on social networks could be influencing what happens in real life. 

“There is a contagion effect. If someone in your very remote social network tried to commit suicide, the young person will find out about that and realize that many people are doing it," he said. «Suicide is presented as an option; That's the unparalleled power that social media has that other types of media haven't had before."

However, he explained that, at the same time, the networks also offer young people an outlet for their emotional challenges. In a 2020 study, 43 percent of respondents ages 14 to 22 said that when they felt depressed, stressed, or anxious, turning to social media generally made them feel better, compared to just 17 percent. which they said made them feel worse. 

Among youth, those with moderate or severe depressive symptoms are nearly twice as likely as those without depression to say they use social media "almost constantly."

"Many people are surprised because the networks have become a place where talking about mental health is not a problem," Moreno said. “I think that has had a big impact on the stigmas. It is more acceptable; It's okay to ask for help." But asking for help is not the same as receiving it.

Lack of resources

While we cannot deny that there is a mental health crisis among children in the country, it is also undeniable that there are not the resources to cope with it. According to the most recent National Mental Health Services Survey, the number of residential treatment centers for children under the age of 18 decreased by 30 percent between 2012 and 2020, while outpatient care for Mental health is going through a similar crisis situation. 

As a result, of the approximately 4.1 million adolescents who experienced a period of major depression in 2020, 58.4 percent did not get any treatment. Among the 2.9 million kids whose depression caused "serious impairment," 53.1 percent had no treatment.

In the middle of this year, following an elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to make significant investments in the mental health of young people. One billion will be dedicated to financing psychological support in school settings for five years, in addition to other resources. 

Pay attention

Risk factors associated with suicide among adolescents include psychiatric disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, substance use, and conduct disorders; psychiatric comorbidity, especially the combination of mood, disruptive and substance abuse disorders; family history of depression or suicide, loss of a parent through death or divorce, physical and sexual abuse, lack of a support network, feelings of social isolation, and bullying.

Youth suicide is preventable. Prevention efforts can be directed at all levels of influence: individual, relational, community and social. Suicide rates for at-risk youth can be substantially reduced by knowing the signs.

Four out of 5 suicide deaths are preceded by warning signs such as suicide threats, previous suicide attempts, depression, worry or obsession with death or making final arrangements.  

Making it harder to die in an act of deliberate self-harm. Interventions include building barriers on bridges, removing weapons from homes with at-risk youth, counseling on lethal force, and reducing the burden of available medicines. 

If you or any of your relatives or friends have suicidal ideas, remember that since July of this year you can contact by phone or send a message to number 988, the National Suicide Prevention Line that works 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. 

Pamela Cruz. Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.
Twittter: @Pamesmiamiga

You may be interested in: Pandemic stress physically ages teen brains: Stanford

Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.


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