Friday, February 9, 2007

Suicide Among Youth

More people die by suicide than by homicide in the United States. Suicide rates among youth have been increasing steadily for the past four decades; suicide is the third leading cause of death among children and youth between the ages of 10 and 24. In the United States, nearly 60% of suicides are committed with a firearm.

Who's at Risk?

Suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940's. Possible risk factors include: unauthorized access to firearms; alcohol use at home; exposure to previous suicides; and residential mobility that might lessen opportunities for developing social networks.

In 1998, males accounted for 80% of all suicides in the U.S. Between 1979 and 1992, suicide rates for Native Americans (a category that includes American Indians and Alaska Natives) were about 1.5 greater than the national rate. Suicides among young Native American males age 15-24 accounted for 64% of all Native American suicides during this period. Suicide among black youths has also increased sharply in recent years: From 1980 to 1992, the rate for black teens age 15-19 more than doubled, from 3.6 per 100,000 to 8.1 per 100,000. Although white teens still have higher suicide rates, the gap is narrowing.

Can It Be Prevented?

A number of prevention efforts are aimed at detecting suicide warning signs. Signals that a young person may be contemplating suicide include: 1) attempted suicide at least once; 2) making plans to take his/her own life, drafting a will, or giving away cherished valuables; and 3) personality or behavior changes, or indications of clinical depression (changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, and thoughts of death or suicide).

Prevention efforts cover a wide range: school gatekeeper programs, community gatekeeper programs, general suicide education, screening programs, peer support programs, crisis centers and hotlines, restriction of access to lethal means, and interventions (with peers) after a suicide. Adults who supervise a young person can possibly deter suicide through recognition of the warning signs. They can also urge a potentially suicidal young person to talk things over with a counselor or a professional before considering any actions.

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