Breaking the Silence: Protecting Our Youth – Suicide Prevention and Awareness for Children and Adolescents
Tryphenia Jenkins, LCSW
In the world of children and adolescents, the challenges they face are as diverse as their young minds themselves. From the rollercoaster of emotions to the pressures of academic success, navigating these formative years can be tough. But there’s an issue that demands our collective attention and unwavering support: suicide prevention and awareness for our youth.
The Silent Crisis
Suicide is a global public health issue that knows no age limit, but it particularly affects children and adolescents. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds worldwide. These statistics remind us that we can no longer remain silent about this alarming crisis.
Understanding the Risk Factors
To effectively address this issue, we must first understand the factors that put our youth at risk. Some of the key risk factors include:
• Mental Health Challenges: Conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder can increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
• Bullying and Peer Pressure: The constant pressure to fit in and the effects of bullying can be unbearable for young minds.
• Substance Abuse: Drug and alcohol abuse can exacerbate mental health issues and contribute to risky behaviors.
• Family Conflict: Family issues, including parental divorce or abuse, can have a profound impact on a child’s mental wellbeing.
• In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
• According to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, suicide rates among young people aged 10 to 24 increased by 57.4% between 2007 and 2018.
• The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that approximately 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
Diversity and Minorities
It’s crucial that suicide prevention and awareness must address the unique challenges faced by diverse and minority populations. Here are some relevant statistics:
• LGBTQ+ Youth: According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. Support and acceptance are vital.
• Indigenous Communities: Native American and Alaskan Native youth have suicide rates higher than the national average. The Indian Health Service reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for this demographic.
• Racial and Ethnic Disparities: There are disparities in mental health care access and outcomes among racial and ethnic minority youth, highlighting the need for culturally sensitive approaches to suicide prevention.
Breaking the Stigma
One of the most significant barriers to addressing youth suicide is the stigma surrounding mental health. Many young people suffer in silence due to fear of judgment or a lack of understanding. It’s crucial that we, as parents, caregivers and community members, create a safe and non-judgmental space for our youth to express their feelings and seek help when needed.
How Can We Help?
• Raise Awareness: Talk openly about mental health and suicide with your children. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you.
• Educate Ourselves: Learn the warning signs of suicide and familiarize yourself with the resources available for help.
• Provide a Supportive Environment: Create a nurturing environment where your child feels safe discussing their feelings. Be a good listener and validate their emotions.
• Seek Professional Help: If you notice any warning signs or your child expresses thoughts of self-harm, seek immediate professional help from a mental health expert or a crisis hotline.
• Community Involvement: Engage with schools, youth organizations and local communities to promote mental health awareness and support systems.
Resources for Help
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
• Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741
• Local mental health professionals and school counselors
• Parent support groups and community organizations
Together, We Can Make a Difference
The future of our youth is in our hands.
By breaking the silence and raising awareness about suicide prevention, we can create a world where every child and adolescent knows they are not alone and help is always available. Let’s be vigilant, compassionate and proactive in protecting the well-being of our youngest generation.
Michelle Yetman, Ph.D., is an associate professor and a clinical psychologist at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions. Tryphenia Jenkins, LCSW, is a Ph.D. intern at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions.