The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll – especially on our youth. Emerging data suggests that depression and suicide concerns have increased among adolescents and young adults ages 12 to 21. Even more alarming, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that suicide rates among children aged 5 to 11 increased nearly 15% each year between 2012 and 2017.
Suicide – especially youth suicide – can be a tough subject to navigate and discuss, but that makes these conversations even more important. Talking about suicide helps take it out of the shadows. And contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide does not encourage or lead someone to take action. Nobody gets hurt from having the conversation. Rather, it often allows the young person to give voice to their struggle.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports suicide is the third-leading cause of death for children aged 10-14. It’s vital that as a Mental Health First Aider, you understand the signs and symptoms a young person considering suicide may exhibit and know how you can use your skills to help. Having open dialogue with youth surrounding suicide and knowing how to support a young person in a crisis can help mitigate some of these risks.
A young person who is contemplating suicide may show one or more signs – or they may not show any at all. Keep these warning signs in mind:
Undiagnosed, untreated or undertreated depression, bullying, experiencing a traumatic event, and struggling with sexual orientation are just a few risk factors that may be associated with youth suicide.
However, there are protective factors that can contribute to resiliency. Factors like strong family and social supports, healthy self-esteem, consistent routines, economic security and good problem-solving skills can help protect a young person from experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis or challenge. The support of family members or other caregivers can be crucial to stop a young person who’s considering suicide from moving forward with it.
As a First Aider, you are another important protective factor! You can be an initial support resource for a youth experiencing a crisis, and it’s important to know how to handle the situation. Here are some tips from the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum:
Suicidal thoughts are serious and should always be followed up with professional help and resources. Your safety and the youth’s safety are the top priority. Following a crisis, you can also seek help to talk about your feelings and do some self-care.
Talking about youth suicide isn’t easy, but you can #BeTheDifference for a young person by knowing the warning signs, having resources readily available and being there for someone who’s experiencing a crisis.
If you or someone you care about feels overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression or anxiety, or like you want to harm yourself or others, please call 911.
You can also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or text MHFA to “741-741” to talk to a Crisis Text Line counselor.
For more information and resources on youth suicide, check out these links:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 3). Child health. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/child-health.htm
Mayne, S. L., Hannan, C., Davis, M., et al. (2021, September). COVID-19 and Adolescent Depression and Suicide Risk Screening Outcomes. Pediatrics. 148(3). https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2021/08/03/peds.2021-051507.full.pdf
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA: For Adults Assisting Children and Youth. Washington, D.C.: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
Ruch, D.A., Heck, K.M., Sheftall, A.H., et al. (2021, July 27) Characteristics and Precipitating Circumstances of Suicide Among Children Aged 5 to 11 Years in the United States, 2013-2017. JAMA Network Open, 4(7). https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2782417