Suicide and our youth: what’s happening - and what we’re doing to change it
It’s no surprise that mental health among all people has taken a hit in the last few years due to COVID-19 and everything that came with it. The mental health crisis that followed has been significant, as many people continue to live with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One age group that has undoubtedly been plagued by suicide deaths? Our youth.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), suicide continues to be the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-14, the third-leading cause of death for ages 15-24, and the twelfth-leading cause of death for all ages in the US. Understanding why young people are at increased risk, and how we should begin the conversation about suicide, is vital to changing this devastating trend.
Why rates are on the rise
Recognizing the impact COVID-19 had on mental health is only a piece of the complex puzzle that is understanding the increase in suicide deaths for the younger generations.
Adolescents and teens, along with the rest of us, were thrust into a new reality virtually overnight. Transitioning to virtual education, missing out on major life events like prom and graduation, not being able to socialize with friends, and a sudden, dramatic change to daily routines. Even still, while the pandemic’s impact on mental health was significant, it isn’t the only culprit.
As Dr. Carl Fleisher of UCLA Health states that, “Teenagers and young adults have had rising rates of suicide compared to 10 or 15 years ago. The things that make them vulnerable are where they stand socially and where they stand developmentally.” Since the prefrontal cortex of the brain is still developing well into our mid-20’s, thorough decision-making skills and impulse control are still a work in progress. With this fact in mind, Dr. Fleisher further observes, younger people are “not going to weigh risks and consequences or values in quite the same way that older folks will.”
In addition to psychological factors, social dynamics also play a crucial role in increased risk of suicide attempts. Younger people do not always have the strong social ties like adults and older generations may have. People who are married or have a partner, children, a roommate, and responsibilities are in a much different place than someone who is still trying to find themselves, not to mention where they fit into the world.
Starting the conversation
Even though stigma regarding mental health and suicide has slightly decreased over the years, it is still a a “taboo” subject to many. Talking about suicide with someone who is struggling can be scary, but it is also life-saving.
One of the most persistent myths about suicide is that talking about it with someone who is mentally struggling will “put the idea in their head.” In fact, the opposite is true. Mayo Clinic Health System actually found that talking about suicide can reduce suicidal ideation and increase the likelihood that the person will seek treatment. For those searching for what to say to a loved one about suicide, The Vanderbilt University Medical Center outlines some great ways to handle this situation, including validating the person’s feelings, expressing genuine concern, encouraging professional help, asking the tough questions about plan/intent/means, help create a safety plan, and connect to emergency services if the person is in imminent danger. Beginning the general conversation about mental health at home and with family can build a more accepting space, where loved ones can feel comfortable talking about their struggles - hopefully before a crisis arises.
An emphasis on suicide prevention (as well as general social-emotional learning) in schools and within our communities are also important places to start the conversation about suicide risk and prevention. Programs like SOS Signs of Suicide and other prevention programs are already utilized thoughout the country and are showing promising results in reducing suicidal ideation.
What Vita is doing to help
Looking for suicide care for yourself, a loved one, or your child, can feel daunting and overwhelming. At Vita, we offer evidence-based care for adolescents and adults who have experienced suicidal ideation, self injurious behavior, or have had a previous suicide attempt.
If you, or someone you love, is in need of specialized, timely treatment, do not hesitate to reach out - we’re here to help.
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline - Call/text - 988
The Crisis Text Hotline (text HOME to 7414741)
Christina Lavigne is a Licensed Professional Counselor based in New Jersey and a mental health therapist at Vita. When not at work, Christina loves to spend time with her family/adorable pup, get lost in a good book, and travel the world.