Depressed teen

Parental Connectedness: Suicide Risk Among Youth

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Depressed teenThis is the ninth in a series of blogs about the benefits of parent-child connectedness.

Teen suicide is a chilling topic. Mental Health America talks about the severity of this problem:

Sometimes teens feel so depressed that they consider ending their lives. Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves. The rate of suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college age youth.

Studies show that suicide attempts among young people may be based on long standing problems triggered by a specific event. Suicidal adolescents may view a temporary situation as a permanent condition. Feelings of anger and resentment combined with exaggerated guilt can lead to impulsive, self-destructive acts.

So, what can be done? Excellent research has given us some great insights.

In one study, researchers wanted to learn whether factors that are effective in reducing drug use and other risks would also be effective in reducing the risk of suicide among youngsters who had a history of being sexually abused. (Sexual abuse is a known risk for later suicide.)

The study examined data from 83,731 Minnesota students in the 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. Four childhood sexual abuse groups were created:

  1. no history of sexual abuse
  2. abuse by non-family member
  3. abuse by family member, and
  4. abuse by both.

Four protective factors included:

  1. family connectedness,
  2. teacher caring,
  3. other adult caring, and 
  4. school safety.

Four percent of students reported sexual abuse by a non-family member, 1.3% by a family member, and 1.4% by both. Youth with a history of childhood sexual abuse had a higher risk of suicide compared with other youth, but when protective factors were accounted for, the probability of suicide among those who had been abused dropped substantially.

Family connectedness was the strongest of the 4 protective factors.

?So, engage your kids in healthy relationships. Get to know them well and spend quality time with them — it makes a valuable difference. Even more, do the same with your grandkids, nieces, nephews and other youth in your community.

?Start today!

Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media Impact Research.