Pediatricians will be instructed to screen teenagers for signs of suicide risk, as new research demonstrates self-inflicted injuries are the second leading death cause in adolescents.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a guideline describing how to identify vulnerable teens and how to help them.
Pediatricians have an important role in conducting conversations with their patients about mental health issues, and the report offers examples of questions that keep adolescents open to discussion.
The first edition of the study was published in 2007 when suicide became the third cause of death in teens. In the last ten years, it became more dangerous than murder and sadly became the second leading cause.
Most teenage lives are taken by unintentional injuries, ranging from drug overdoses to motor vehicle accidents. Tragic enough, the second most dangerous conducts are the intentional self-inflicted wounds.
Experts say that the emergence of suicidal behaviors may have been caused by higher stress and anger levels related to electronic media and by the reluctance towards antidepressant medication.
For that matter, FDA requested in 2004 that all antidepressants should be labeled with warnings that children and teens that use these drugs can be predisposed to suicidal thoughts and behavior. As a result, health care providers prescribe fewer antidepressants to patients under the age of 19.
However, studies have shown that there are more benefits than disadvantages for medication, which may be a reason to encourage doctors to continue to prescribe them.
Clinical psychologists explain that the high suicide risk among teens is due to the challenges imposed by adolescence and the immaturity of the young teenager brain.
There are more than 40,000 suicides every year in America. The most important factor in suicide is the presence of a mental health problem, such as depression.
Pediatricians should look for signs such as substance abuse, mood disorders, a history of physical or sexual abuse, or changes in sexual preference. The 2016 report added bullying to the list of problematic factors, which can increase the stress.
“The internet can have a magnifying effect on bullying because the adolescent’s humiliation is public and he or she feels helpless to stop it from continuing. It is bad enough to be teased and rejected by a few classmates, but far worse when it is visible to all of your friends and potentially everyone in the world,” said Ben Shain, author of the report.
Aside from cyberbullying, suicide teens may use the internet to search for topics related to death. Media reports of suicide were proved to produce cluster suicides.
However, social networks tend to neutralize the impact of negative events, and they also offer a good communication environment for teenagers, their families, and their mentors.
Sexual minority youth has two times more suicidal thoughts, and while girls have more suicidal attempts, boys have a death rate three times higher. Experts say that the latter is caused by the fact that boys use deadlier methods for suicide.
Moreover, the presence of firearms in the house is associated with a higher suicide risk in teenagers. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to remove guns and ammunition from their homes.
As people generally keep to themselves the experiences of stress and negative thinking, doctors should look for signs of vulnerability and be prepared to conduct an open conversation because they may be able to help prevent the self-inflicted death of their patients.
Pediatricians should refer teenagers with increased suicide risk to mental health evaluation and treatment.
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