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  • Writer's pictureAli

Suicide Prevention Month: The Youth

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

Last week, we talked about the start of my suicide ideations beginning in adolescence and the impact this topic has on many different people. We discovered alarming research with vetted statistics from well-known organizations, and we learned just how impactful suicidal tendencies are on our youth. Before we begin our trek toward a deeper understanding, I'd like to put more of my story into perspective to further relate to the demographic at hand.

 

I mentioned in this series' previous post that my suicide ideations began at age sixteen. Unfortunately, those thoughts and tendencies would continue into late teenagehood. I can vividly remember my junior and senior years of high school being full of emotional anguish. I pursued anything that could possibly remove my heartache, including risky sexual behavior, underage drinking, and underage cannabis use. I ran toward anybody who offered any sense of connection regardless of the emotional implications.

After experiencing the sudden breakup with my ex-girlfriend during sophomore year, my negative thoughts began to spiral relentlessly out of control. I remember very vividly the harmful self-talk that permeated my mind. I told myself things like, "I'm worthless. I'm unworthy of love. I'm unwanted. Nobody loves me. I don't deserve good things. People don't like me." On and on this went for months and eventually, years. Food became a harmful source of comfort and escape. Isolation consoled me like an old friend, and toxic thoughts became a usual routine. These were all warning signs that I had recognized within myself, but I didn't have the necessary support to feel safe enough to seek professional help due to judgment from those I loved and potential criticism from friends and acquaintances at school.

During a computer class my junior year of high school, I researched the signs of depression in teenagers. This is a similar, shortened list to my findings written by Mayo Clinic:

  • feeling hopeless or empty (check)

  • loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities (check)

  • low self-esteem (check)

  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt (check)

Although I'm not a mental health professional (yet), it's safe to say that I was suffering from depression without being clinically diagnosed. It's also fair to say that after much research, the same is to be said for the majority of the youth in the U.S. This brings me to the importance of suicide prevention, specifically in children, the youth in our lives, and the future of our people. How do we help them, and where do we start? First, we have to begin with information and data to give us deeper insight into one of our most precious demographic groups.


As a reminder, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that suicide is the second leading cause of death among ages 10-34. Listed below is additional data from reputable sources:

  • According to Boston Children's Hospital, 90 percent of people who have died by suicide suffered from a mental illness.

  • The NIMH and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) conclude that 1 in 100,000 children ages 10-14 die by suicide each year.

  • The NIMH and SAVE also conclude that 7 in 100,000 youth ages 15-19 die by suicide each year.


According to WebMD, depression can occur in children and teenagers for the following reasons:

  • worthlessness or inadequacy over their grades (been there)

  • social status with peers (been there, too)

  • sexual orientation (yep)

  • family dynamics and family dysfunction (so much yes)

  • environmental stressors (also yes)


One of the astounding pieces of research that I've discovered is the limited access to potentially beneficial treatment options for children and teens such as, medication.

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports an antidepressant black box warning indicating that suicidal thoughts are believed to increase in young people 25 and younger.

  • Contrary to the controversial approach, Mayo Clinic states that additional research suggests that suicide rates in children decrease when they take antidepressants.

  • Prozac is the only authorized drug to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in pediatrics according to an article written by the FDA in 2018.

  • Prozac, Zoloft, Luvox, and Anafranil are approved for pediatric treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) according to the FDA.

Since this age demographic is one of the most vulnerable to develop mental health related diagnoses, it is imperative that we develop a source of medication designed for their young and ever-developing brains. I have found loose-ended articles indicating a reform in medication accessibility, but there isn't enough data to support this change currently.

Regardless of our individual stances on using medication as a treatment method for our kids and teens, it's important to remember that this generation is desperately in need of professional help, and this help just might include medication.



Another very useful treatment method to combat mental illness in people, including children and teens is counseling and therapy. Unfortunately, this is another area in which we fall devastatingly short:

  • In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 13.6% of children in the U.S. ages 5-17 had received mental health treatment in the past twelve months.

  • Ten percent of children received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional.

  • Non-Hispanic white children were more likely to receive professional mental health services than Hispanic or non-Hispanic black children in the past twelve months.

It goes without saying that these numbers are nowhere near as high as they should be, and it's also alarming that children of color and those less fortunate have even more limited access than children who are raised in financially safe homes. This data speaks for itself and it is maddening, alarming, and should propel us forward to change the culture and accessibility for mental health treatment.

 

There is a story online written by a teenage girl seeking encouraging letters to help her get through depressive and anxious episodes. I volunteer with Letters Against Depression to identify and write words of hope to people struggling with suicide attempts and/or ideations. For privacy purposes, I've changed the young girl's name, but I want to capture her heart-wrenching story. This is "Kelly":


"I’ve been struggling with severe depression and anxiety i have attempted suicide about 4 times I'm 15 right now. My journey has been really draining. it started when i was about 8 years old my mom and dad got divorced and i found out some awful things about my father and i really look up to him. he cheated on my mom and got another girl pregnant. when i was 11 i was spending the weekend with my dad and stepmom at the time and they sent me to a pool party where i got assaulted by a group of older guys which i see everyday at my high school. when i was in 6th grade i was bullied for being a person of color and people would say horrible things to me. in 7th grade that was my first attempt at offing myself i OD'd on migraine medicine. that’s when i developed anxiety. in 9th grade i failed all my classes and i hated myself my mom would yell at me every morning bc i didn’t want to wake up and now I'm in my sophomore year and i still have those down days but i started making music and singing and i am releasing a song on the 22nd but i was raped before school started by a guy who was my boyfriend. i wish i could go back and change everything and that’s what kills me. my hobbies are singing, dancing, and playing guitar. i don’t have a support system bc people don’t know what to do with me. I've talked to everyone i can like counsellors therapist physiatrist and they put me on so many different pills and i hate that people think medicine is gonna fix me :( I'm just emotionally and physically exhausted."


This story, this child should be tangible evidence of just how far we have to go. Our youth are desperate for our help, and we owe it to them to encourage professional assistance and guidance, especially when they are insisting otherwise. "Kelly" isn't just another statistic. She is a beating heart, a human worth loving, and a young person worth saving. Needless to say, I will be writing her a letter of encouragement and maybe even give her some much needed wisdom from someone who was once her age. I realize that I cannot change a person's mind or lessen their pain, but I can advocate for them and hold space for them.

 

If your child or a child you know is experiencing signs and symptoms of depression or other potential mental health illnesses, here are my best pieces of advice coming from a depressed teen myself:

  • inquire without judgment and seek to understand their mental state with an open mind and heart

  • remind them of their worth every single day without fail

  • tell them you love them over and over again

  • encourage them to connect with friends and loved ones in person, and remove the digital distractions

  • be present, be a safe place, and hold space for them in their time of hurt


You are a vital part of our kids' journey through healing and growth. Being here shows just how much you care for our future generation of vulnerable humans, and I can't thank you enough for investing in this precious generation of people. Educating ourselves ensures that we are capable of leading others with integrity, courage, and strength. Our kids, your kids are grateful for you, and I am too.


*If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services offer 24/7 support, are free, and confidential.*


 

Sources:

[1] “Teen Depression - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 5 June 2021, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20350985.

[2] “NIMH » Suicide Prevention.” NIH National Institute of Mental Health, 1 Aug. 2021, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention.

[3] “Suicide and Teens | Boston Children’s Hospital.” Boston Children’s Hospital, www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/s/suicide-and-teens. Accessed 15 Sept. 2021.

[4] “Suicide Statistics and Facts –.” SAVE, save.org/about-suicide/suicide-facts. Accessed 15 Sept. 2021.

[5] Bruce, Debra Fulghum, PhD. “Teen Depression.” WebMD, 4 June 2008, www.webmd.com/depression/guide/teen-depression.

[6] Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Suicidality in Children and Adolescents Being Treated With Antidepressant Medications.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 5 Feb. 2018, www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/suicidality-children-and-adolescents-being-treated-antidepressant-medications.

[7] “Products - Data Briefs - Number 381 - September 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db381.htm#:%7E:text=Interview%20Survey%2C%202019.-,Summary,medication%20for%20their%20mental%20health. Accessed 15 Sept. 2021.

[8] Letters Against Depression. “Letters Against Depression.” Letters Against Depression, www.lettersagainst.org. Accessed 15 Sept. 2021.

[9] “Home.” National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Accessed 10 Sept. 2021.

[10] “Crisis Text Line | Text HOME to 741741 Free, 24/7 Crisis Counseling.” Crisis Text Line, Wide Eye, 2013, www.crisistextline.org.

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I learned so much in this article! Thank you!

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