Suicidal teens not getting the help they need

By Colin Ricketts - 15 Sep 2011 16:25:1 GMT
Suicidal teens not getting the help they need

American teenagers who suffer from suicidal thoughts are not getting the help they need according to new research which found that only 13 percent of teens who thought of taking their own lives were visited by mental health professionals.

Although troubled teenagers are eligible for help at relatively low cost, the researchers from Seattle Children's Research Institute at the University of Washington, found that in the year after suicidal thoughts occurred the number of teenagers receiving help only rose to 16 percent. And, when the team considered all mental health interventions, including medication, just over a quarter of those youngsters who thought of suicide had help in the year before their suicidal impulses.

"Teen suicide is a very real issue today in the United States. Until now, we've known very little about how much or how little suicidal teens use healthcare services. We found it particularly striking to observe such low rates of healthcare service use among most teens in our study," said the lead author of the study Carolyn A. McCarty, PhD, a research associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Suicide in America is now the third most common cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds, and for children aged from 10 to 14 it's the fourth. Thinking of suicide is not considered particularly unusual among adolescents, but the research showed that it causes serious and long-lasting difficulties for teenagers in forming personal relationships, with their academic work and by causing other related mental health issues.

The researchers looked at the experiences of 198 teenagers (99 of whom reported suicidal thoughts) over two years who received treatment from the Group Health Cooperative.

Nearly all - 86 percent - of the teenagers who reported suicidal thoughts had seen health professionals, but very few met with mental health specialists and only 7 percent were prescribed antidepressants.

"We know that asking teens about suicidal ideation does not worsen their problems," Dr. McCarty said. "It's absolutely crucial for a teen who is having thoughts of self-harm or significant depression to be able to tell a helpful, trustworthy adult."

"These findings underscore the need for clinicians to be aware of the potential for suicide in adolescence," she added. "Primary care physicians and healthcare providers should be specifically assessing suicidal ideation in the context of depression screening for teenagers. Effective screening tools are available, as are effective treatments for depression."

The research is due to be published in the journal Academic Paediatrics.

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