Current treatment for teens that struggle with mental disorders and thoughts of suicide doesn’t appear to be helping according to a new study. Adolescents need a more intuitive treatment plan and for the most part, that’s not what they are getting.
The Harvard study found that around 1 in every 8 U.S. teens have thought about suicide and nearly 1 in 25 either made plans to or actually attempted suicide.
Researchers collected data on suicidal behaviors from 6,500 teenagers, aged 13 to 18. They also had the teen's parents fill out questionnaires.
Just over 12 percent of the teens said they had thought about suicide and 4 percent said they had created a plan or attempted suicide.
"What adults say is, the highest risk time for first starting to think about suicide is in adolescence," said Matthew Nock, a psychologist who worked on the study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Researchers found that almost all the teens who had thought about or attempted suicide had a mental disorder including, but not limited to, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD or abused alcohol or drugs.
While 89 percent of the teens were in treatment for various mental disorders, researchers discovered that 55 percent didn’t start their suicidal behavior until after treatment began.
“Mental health professionals are not simply meeting with adolescents in response to their suicidal thoughts or behaviors,” the authors said.
Nock also noted that the results were both “encouraging” and “disturbing.”
"We know that a lot of the kids who are at risk and thinking about suicide are getting (treatment)," he told Reuters Health. However, "We don't know how to stop them - we don't have any evidence-based treatments for suicidal behavior."
Nock believes that treatment is important for teens that have mental disorders or may be having thoughts of suicide, but that treatment needs to be better.
Because most youth who think about suicide never go on to make an actual plan or attempt, doctors need to get better at figuring out which ones are most at risk of putting themselves in danger, according to Nock.
"For parents, if they suspect their child is thinking about suicide… or talking about death, I would have that child evaluated," he said.
Sadly, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 4,100 teenagers kill themselves each year.
While the study ‘s results are troubling, the authors didn’t say what kind of treatment the teens received or from whom.
Other studies have shown that treatment can help teens work through their suicidal thoughts especially when there is follow-up by the treatment center and the child’s family is supportive and involved.
Kidshealth.org has a list of behaviors parents and friends should be aware of. These are indicators that a teen may be thinking about suicide.
It notes that suicide often occurs following a stressful life event, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict.
The signs are:
- Talks about suicide or death in general.
- Gives hints that they might not be around anymore.
- Talks about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty.
- Pulls away from friends or family.
- Writes songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss.
- Starts giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends.
- Loses the desire to take part in favorite things or activities.
- Has trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.
- Experiences changes in eating or sleeping habits.
- Engages in risk-taking behaviors.
- Loses interest in school or sports.
There’s nothing more tragic than a family who loses a child. Teen suicide is on the rise and treatment should be available and appropriate for a teen’s needs. Perhaps this study will inspire more research into what works best for helping teens that are dealing with mental disorders and thoughts of suicide.