Summarized by Sandy Burkhardt, Ph.D., ABPP
Note: Dr. Burkhardt attended the 42nd Annual Arthur B. Richter Conference in Child Psychiatry on March 3, 2019, which was sponsored by the Indiana University School of Medicine. She has shared the following summary of points made by the keynote speaker, David Brent, M.D., from his talk, Assessment and Management of Suicide Risks in Children.
“In Indiana suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24 and the 4th leading cause of death for youth ages 5-14. Experts and teens list several reasons for the increase, including insufficient mental health screening, poor access to mental health services and resistance to seeking care.”
- At risk youth are usually seen in primary care and emergency room settings rather than by mental health care providers.
When a youth says, “I’m not feeling well,” it can be a possible indicator of mental health issues.
Research showed that youth who attempt suicide were often seen by their primary care physicians or at an emergency room just weeks prior to the attempt. The reasons for those visits included asthma, alcohol or drug intoxication, and being assaulted. Seldom did the youth indicate he or she was feeling suicidal.
Parents, primary care physicians and emergency room/urgent care providers should consider the risk of emerging suicidal behavior for youth who present with these possible risk factors.
- Youth suicidal behavior can develop quickly. Often the decision to attempt suicide is made within a 6-hour window of time. 50% of youth making a first suicide attempt die.
- Social media posts regarding suicide have been identified as sources of possible suicide intent by the youth sharing such information.
- Seldom were teens and children who complete suicide in treatment with a mental health provider.
- Screening for possible suicidal behavior can be effective if it leads to a referral for mental health treatment, not solely ruling out immediate danger to self. Being in treatment for mental health issues is associated with a reduced risk of suicide attempt or completion.
- Limiting access to lethal means of suicide, particularly guns, is an effective strategy for reducing youth risk.