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As a doctor, I concern myself most with preventing and easing the suffering of my patients and giving them hope. As a psychiatrist, the worst outcome of that endeavor is suicide. Clinically, most of the patients I treat who have suicidal thoughts and plans are 12 – 19 years old — some younger and some older, but most fall in that range. Certainly there are adults who suffer as well, but since the majority of my patients are children, adolescents and young adults, I will stick to this population. Fortunately, I have not lost a patient to suicide, but it is unquestionably a subject that comes up frequently with my patients. I’ve had quite a few very brave and strong patients fight their way back from its clutches.

The latest statistics on youth suicide may shock you:

3rd leading cause of death for 15 – 24 year olds

6th leading cause of death for 5 – 14 year olds

The list of possible causes and catalysts for suicidal thinking, attempts and completions is vast and trying to list them all would be no small clinical task. Instead, I’d like to share some of the things I hear from young people in my practice. If you’re a parent, this may help you be better aware of some of the signs. If you are someone suffering, I hope you will consider treatment if any of this sounds familiar:

  1. When a young person is depressed for more than a week, they should seek help from a trained doctor or therapist. Some young people may come straight out and tell you they are depressed, but lots don’t.

Some symptoms of depression are:

Irritability, anger, little patience – this is a big one for young people

Sleep changes – sleeps all day, wakes too early, can’t fall asleep

Interests diminish – no longer doing things they typically like as much

Guilt or self blame – feeling no one loves them or being highly self critical

Energy changes – can be up or down

Concentration decline – grades may fall

Appetite changes – may see weight changes

Physical movements diminish or increase and appear anxious or agitated

Suicidal statements or gestures

Hopelessness – things will never get better

Helplessness – no one can help me

  1. Here are some statements I have heard from young people with suicidal thoughts:

“If you are not skinny, pretty and making straight A’s, you may as well not exist”

“I had good friends, but there was some drama, and now they don’t speak to me”

“I just feel so overwhelmed with school and my parents and trying to do everything that       I just don’t care anymore”

“I was in all advanced classes In High School, and now I am failing my first semester of college and I don’t want to face my friends and family”

“My parents are constantly on my back and only care about my grades”

“I can’t figure out why he or she broke up with me, I don’t know what I did wrong”

“This person I know killed themselves and it has really hit me hard”

“My parents fight all the time, and I can’t stand being at home, but I’m too young to drive”

“Everything was great where we used to live, but we moved here and everything sucks”

“If I can’t be myself, then why should I be alive”

“My Dad chose his new girlfriend or wife over me”

“My Mom chose her new boyfriend or husband over me”

“I’m never going to be successful”

“My parents have taken everything from me that I love, so what’s the point”

“I got bullied in middle school and I have never really gotten over it”

“I drink and smoke and take whatever I can get my hands on, because if I’m sober I just think about dying”

“I don’t think anyone can help me”

“My Grandmother died last year, my dog died a few months ago and now my aunt died suddenly and everyone just dies anyway”

  1. Sexual and/or physical trauma can be very devastating for both girls and boys and can precipitate suicidal thoughts and attempts
  2. Bullying is a serious and common problem and can result in suicidal thoughts and attempts

*Don’t be afraid to seek treatment for your kids if you suspect they may be in trouble. Talking about suicide with a trained professional won’t cause it or put the thoughts into their head, it will show them that you care and give them a safe place to talk about their problems.

*Always takes suicidal statements seriously and seek help for your child

Stay healthy and informed, Dr. Patricia Hess – Board Certified Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist