In a report recently published in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers at Columbus National Children’s Hospital, Ohio, and the Ohio Central Poison Center found that suicide attempts with drug overdoses have more than doubled since 2000, and among girls more than three times.
“I think it all provides an opportunity to teach and raise awareness and find out what the solutions are,” said John Ackermann, suicide prevention coordinator and clinical psychologist at the National Children’s Hospital and one of the authors of the new study. . “There are so many opportunities in our system to do better. It should be a call to mobilize resources. “
The stakes are high. Joan Myers of Northfield, Illinois, knows by hearsay – her daughter Ellis committed suicide at the age of 16 in 2004. In 2006, Meers founded Elyssa’s Mission, a nonprofit organization from Northbrook that operates about 200 schools in Illinois. It trains staff and teaches students about warning signs of suicide and how to get help for themselves or their friends. Students are then tested at the end of the program and referred for assistance.
“It’s important to me that we talk about it, because talking about suicide is the only way to save a life,” Meers said. “We didn’t know then.”
Over the past few years, Myers has said more schools are interested in suicide awareness, and last year the group added 50 new schools.
Suicide prevention in schools is an important part of addressing this public health issue, Ackermann said. According to him, suicide reviews should also be commonplace in primary care physicians ’offices, and parents should know what resources are available.
“We need an approach to health care … like we have with cancer, with HIV, with car accidents,” he said. “There is a clear gap in how often we are directly confronted with the problem of suicidal ideation and behavior. This is an awkward topic that requires both adults and young people to feel comfortable. ”
In a recent study, Ackermann and other researchers analyzed data submitted to the poison control center from 2000 to November last year, revealing more than 1.6 million alleged suicide attempts through self-poisoning of children and young people aged 10 to 24. They found that from 2000 to 2010, there was a decrease in suicide attempts as a result of overdoses among 10-15-year-olds, but then “sharp and steady” growth from 2011 to 2018 ranged from more than 120 percent to almost 300 percent .
The increase was driven mainly by women, who experts say are more likely to commit suicide than men – more likely to use an overdose as a method – but do not die from suicide attempts as often as men.
The study also showed an increase in suicide attempts as a result of overdoses among 16-18-year-olds over a 19-year period, but there was no significant difference for individuals 19 and older.
Although researchers have been unable to explain why these suicide attempts are on the rise in young people – or why there seems to be a shift in 2011 – experts point to rising social media use and the opiate crisis as possible explanations.
The study’s authors also say that more research is needed, and that the causes of suicide are often complex and multifaceted. In another recent study, also from the National Children’s Hospital, researchers noted a surge in suicide deaths among 10-17-year-olds a month after the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” was released on March 31, 2017. Suicide prevention experts have widely regarded the series as glorifying suicide.
The study is the latest in a series of pieces of evidence in recent years showing that suicide is on the rise, including last year’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, which found that suicide was the leading cause of death in the United States. almost every state.
Even with the rising awareness of mental health in recent years, Ackermann said, “we need more hands, more investment in politics.”
“The infrastructure of how we support at-risk children is rather weak,” he added. “There’s a lot of stigma and a lot of shame. We force people who are vulnerable to jump through many hoops to get help. ”
Funding is a barrier, he noted, as local nonprofits do much of the work to prevent suicide in their communities.
“We need to invest more money in this,” said Jonathan Singer, an associate professor of social work at Loyola University in Chicago and president-elect of the American Suicide Society in Washington, DC.
Funding must meet needs, he said, noting that research shows that suicide is the second biggest cause of death among young people aged 10-24.
“If we had a billion in suicide prevention research and intervention efforts, we could actually fund research that answers some questions, such as whether it’s really social media or not,” Singer said. “We could pay to have a person dedicated to each school district … who is the suicide prevention coordinator.”
But if suicide prevention and screening efforts are stepped up in schools, communities will need more services to treat children in need, he added.
Last school year at Elyssa’s Mission educators covered about 43,000 students, said Jody Seagal, director of education. Of these students, 2,700 people needed help through a screening test conducted after the group presentation was completed. And Seagal said 74 of those students were hospitalized because of the inevitable risk of suicide.
“There has been a big shift in schools when they realize this is a big problem. Potentially, these 74 children were saved … and this is only last school year, ”she said.
“We want to be active. If they can get support and treatment, they will not get to the place where they have attempted suicide. ”