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If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat live at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If you’re in Kansas or Missouri, you can also call KVC Hospitals at 913-890-7468 to find children’s psychiatric treatment near you.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 48,344 people died by suicide in 2018. That’s nearly 1 person every 11 minutes. Suicide has become a major public health issue and families across the United States are in crisis as suicide has become the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34.
The number of U.S. children and teens visiting emergency departments for suicide attempts or ideation doubled from 2007 to 2015 (source: JAMA Pediatrics). Add in the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and children and teens are especially at risk of long-term impacts to their development and mental health.
Children’s mental health-related visits to emergency departments have increased significantly since the onset of the pandemic. From April 2020 to October 2020, these visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11, and for ages 12 to 17, they increased 31%.
The number of children and teens struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts was already increasing at an alarming rate prior to COVID-19. As this virus continues to spread, disrupt routines, and claim lives, reports show that our most vulnerable generation—our youth—are struggling at higher rates than we have ever seen before.
All of these factors create an immediate need for families to know the warning signs associated with suicidal thoughts and to know how to access treatment when a child is experiencing a mental health emergency.
There is a common belief that someone who thinks about or attempts suicide has a mental health disorder. However, in 2016, more than half (54%) of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Also, there is rarely one single factor that causes someone to consider suicide. Some of the issues that can contribute to suicide include substance use, trauma, untreated mental illness, physical health, financial stress, legal issues, housing, relationships and more.
Know the Risk Factors
Below is a list of factors that may indicate an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or attempts in youth.
- A prior suicide attempt
- A family history of suicide
- Exposure to traumatic experiences like witnessing violence or experiencing abuse or neglect
- A family history of mental illness, depression, alcohol and/or drug misuse
- Chronic pain and certain medical conditions
Know the Warning Signs
- Killing themselves
- Wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless
- Unexplainable and/or unbearable pain
- Feeling like there’s no point to life
- Drastic changes in behavior, such as struggling with depression but suddenly displaying a surge of happiness or eagerness
- Increased alcohol and/or drug use
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
- Withdrawn from family, friends and/or activities
- Displaying changes in their mood, such as increased anxiousness, anger or other extreme mood changes
There are many preventative steps you can take to help a child or teen before they are in crisis. Here are some examples:
- Tell them that they matter. Positive reinforcement is important.
- Help them engage positive supports in their life (such as school, church, sports or volunteering)
- Create opportunities for them to talk about their emotions. Actively listen.
- Teach them healthy habits for caring for their body and brain.
- Work with them on stress tolerance and coping skills.
- Encourage counseling; you don’t have to be in crisis to seek help.
How to Help a Child Who Is Struggling
If you know a child or teen struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or other mental health needs, seek professional help immediately. Their suffering won’t go away on its own or pass with time.
There isn’t a “one size fits all” with treatment and children’s needs. Here are some steps you can take to find a youth the help that best fits their individual needs:
- Speak with their primary care physician or local community mental health center
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
- Visit the Anxiety & Depression Association of America website at adaa.org
- Visit a local hospital or emergency department and ask for a consultation
- Contact KVC Hospitals at (913) 890-7468 to learn about our youth psychiatric treatment programs located in Kansas. Click here to see our locations.
- Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264 or visit their website at nami.org
- Learn more about youth suicidal ideation from the Child Mind Institute
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