Study Finds One In 25 Teenagers Has Attempted Suicide
January 10, 2013

Study Finds One In 25 Teenagers Has Attempted Suicide

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

Despite previous mental health attention, a staggering number of teens will attempt to take their own lives.

Adolescence is a vulnerable time in most everyone´s life. There is this odd confluence of mental and physical development whose ends seem in perpetual conflict during this strenuous time in our lives. Mentally, we are striving to fit in with the group, go with the flow and not make waves. Alternatively, our physical development, trying to turn us into the individual adult we will become, causes us to stand out from the crowd.

Some of us may have had a traumatic relationship with acne. Still others may have sprouted like a weed, leaving themselves open to queries of how the weather is up where we are.

I personally didn´t suffer either of these. I graduated high school a clean faced kid who was far too short. The point, I guess, is that we were transformed, during this integral stage of development, from one of the masses to one distinct individual among a sea of others. And this stress can lead to depression.

"What adults say is, the highest risk time for first starting to think about suicide is in adolescence," said Matthew Nock, a professor of psychology who was lead author of the study out of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In a new study, researchers have found that approximately 1 for every 8 teenagers sampled have claimed to have persistent suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, a full 4 percent of those individuals will actually make a plan to commit suicide, while another 4 percent will follow through on that plan with a suicide attempt.

The study, itself the largest such study of suicidal behaviors in adolescents in the United States, was published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, and claims that a significant percentage of young people who exhibit suicidal behavior have pre-existing mental disorders. This, according to Nock, suggests these adolescents that commit or attempt suicide are possibly not receiving the proper mental healthcare to prevent such an outcome.

"Most suicidal adolescents reported that they had entered into treatment with a mental health specialist before the onset of their suicidal behaviors, which means that while our treatments may be preventing some suicidal behaviors, it clearly is not yet good enough at reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviors," Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said in an interview with Health Day.

"It is therefore also important to make sure that mental health professionals are trained in the latest evidence-based approaches to managing suicidality," added Rego, who was not involved in the new study.

Behind accidents and homicides, suicide is the third-highest cause of death among US teenagers. Between the years of 1999 and 2006, the latest data presented on this subject, approximately 11 percent of deaths of youths aged 12 to 19 was as a result of suicide. The authors of the study claim that these figures show that teenagers are falling through the cracks of our mental health system and they believe we should develop and implement better and more effective prevention strategies.

“Mental health professionals are not simply meeting with adolescents in response to their suicidal thoughts or behaviors,” the authors said. While it is statistically impossible to determine how many suicides may have been averted as a result of psychiatric treatment, the study contends “it is clear“¦that treatment does not always succeed.”

Nock and colleagues conducted surveys on 6,483 youths all between the ages of 13 and 18 years of age. They learned that 9 percent of boys and 15 percent of girls reported having experienced persistent suicidal thoughts at some point.

Furthermore, 5 percent of females reported having formulated a suicide plan with 6 percent actually trying, at least once, to kill themselves. When compared to their male counterparts, themselves reporting that only 3 percent of respondents had actually formulated plans with 2 percent attempting to carry them out to their fatal conclusion, we find most female attempts do not culminate in fatality.

The boys that carried out their plans of suicide typically met with a more tragic end due to the fact they typically would choose more lethal methods for suicide, such as the use of a firearm.

According to Nock and his colleagues, almost every teen who had considered or acted on a suicide plan were sufferers of a mental disorder of one kind or another. The research team was able to determine that of the 60 percent of respondents who had developed a suicide plan would actually try to act on it. The attempt on their own lives typically occurred within the first year after the onset of a mental disorder.

The disorders that were most predictive of a suicide plan were diagnoses of major depression and a disorder known as dysthymia, which itself is a form of chronic depression. Still other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, eating disorders and intermittent explosive disorder were found to have put the respondents at a higher risk of suicide attempt. And adding to the volatility of these disorders is the prevalence of the abuse of certain drugs and alcohol.

One very interesting note to the study, according to lead author Nock, was that more than half of the youth respondents were already receiving mental health treatment when they reported their suicidal behaviors. This, according to Nock, was both encouraging and disturbing.

“We know that a lot of the kids who are at risk and thinking about suicide are getting [treatment],” Nock told Reuters Health. The problem as he sees it, however, is that, “we don´t know how to stop them — we don´t have any evidence-based treatments for suicidal behavior.”

The study shows that most of the youth who have had suicidal thoughts never go on to make an actual plan. This is an important point because it means that clinicians have to find improved methods of figuring out which youth are more at risk of putting themselves in danger, according to Nock. Emotions and actions such as fear, anger, distress, disruptive behavior and substance abuse are each predictors of potential suicidal behavior, the study noted.

Nock goes on to state that once the most at-risk youth have been identified, a determination on how best to treat them must me formulated. He says this is because it is clear that a lot of current methods aren´t preventing suicidal behaviors and attempts.

"It is important to emphasize that the majority of adolescents, and adults for that matter, who think about suicide do not go on to make an attempt, yet ideation is a significant predictor of both plan and attempt," said Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology.

"These differences,” the researchers believe, “suggest that distinct prediction and prevention strategies are needed for ideation [suicidal thoughts], plans among ideators, planned attempts and unplanned attempts."

"In that sense, what we need a greater understanding about is near-term predictors of suicidal behavior -- what is associated with suicide attempts and death by suicide in the next 12 months or, even better, the next 30 days," Berman concluded.