As an emergency physician, I find the sharp increase in teenage suicide over the past 40 years in the United States to be troubling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is highlighting the problem through a new analysis of data that was published in a recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). In that analysis, researchers documented a substantial increase in suicide among teenagers in the United States from 1975 through 2015, with the suicide rate among girls reaching record levels.
The issue is making headlines around the country and I recently visited NBC Connecticut to talk about it.
In Connecticut, children have died by suicide 10 times so far this year, which is up from eight in all of 2016. It’s alarming to know that an estimated 15 percent of children have thoughts about suicide and eight percent of children actually attempt to take their own lives.
So, what can be done to prevent suicide?
We always encourage parents and other adults to maintain open lines of communication with children to discuss mental health concerns. Research shows an increased risk of suicide for children who are either bullies or victims of bullying, so children should know that bullying is unacceptable and should be reported to an adult if it occurs. In addition, parents should make sure homes are safe places for children by properly storing all weapons and medications to reduce the risk of suicide occurring at home. If parents have concerns about their children’s mental health, they should consult with a pediatrician.
While communication can be a challenge with teenagers, the reality is children who feel more connected to their families, their schools and their communities are at reduced risk for suicide.
The CDC data shows suicide numbers for boys and girls in the U.S. dropped from 1990 through 2007 before rising again. It’s my hope as an emergency physician that we can address this issue as a community and country to once again see those numbers decline.
Steven Rogers, MD, is the director of mental health services for Connecticut Children’s Emergency Department.