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Which Kids are at Highest Risk for Suicide?

No child is immune, but statistics tell us that some adolescents are more vulnerable than others and may require closer parental attention:

Teenage boys suffering from an emotional or behavioral disorder.

Although girls are more prone to depression, the suicide rate among teenage boys is four times higher. One theory as to why is that girls generally have more intimate friendships than boys do. In times of stress, girls can often lean on one another for emotional support, whereas boys tend to internalize their feelings.

Gay or lesbian youth.

Many adolescents who take their own lives are homosexual. Depression and substance abuse are prevalent among these young men and women, who often face rejection and ridicule due to their sexuality identity.

Teenagers with substance-abuse problems.

“Many suicides occur on the spur of the moment in association with alcohol or other drugs,” explains Dr. Robert W. Blum, director of the division of pediatrics and adolescent health at University Hospitals in Minneapolis. “The drugs are disinhibiting and allow the person’s underlying distress to surface.”

Teenagers with easy access to potentially lethal medications.

Another scenario involving substances is when a young person underestimates the toxic effects of medications found at home. A girl desperately seeking to numb her unhappiness, not end her life, accidentally overdoses on just a few pills. The reverse can happen to a boy intent on going to sleep and never waking up swallowing a smorgasbord of drugs, only to regain consciousness in the hospital.

“Teenagers aren’t pharmacologists,” notes Dr. John Kulig, director of adolescent medicine at Boston’s New England Medical Center. “So they can look in the medicine cabinet and think that taking two antibiotics, three acetaminophen and four vitamin C tablets would be lethal [highly unlikely] but not understand that as few as three or four tricyclic antidepressants could very well prove deadly.”

Youngsters with a history of suicidal behavior.

One in three suicide victims has tried to kill themselves in the past. A history of violence may be seen.

Boys and girls who have lost a friend or relative to suicide.

Studies show that a considerable number of youth suicides and suicide attempts occur in the wake of the self-inflicted death or injury of someone else. The person may be known to them, or he may be a stranger whose suicide was reported by the media. Plano, Texas, is one of several towns plagued by a “suicide cluster,” where one youngster’s death touches off a chain reaction among teenagers.

According to Dr. William Lord Coleman of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, “Anytime there is a suicide in the community, parents need to be extra vigilant about how that may be affecting their child.” Don’t be afraid to raise the subject with a teenager, for fear that by bringing it out into the open you’re planting thoughts that will one day be acted upon. To the contrary, you can use this opportunity to point out that the victim probably didn’t realize that there were many people and resources available to help him overcome his mental illness.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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