Depression

Teen Suicide: Too Young To Die


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Summary & Participants

Suicide among our nation's youth has increased dramatically over the years, and is now the second leading cause of death in teenagers today. It's a disturbing statistic, but one which every parent should face. What drives children to take their lives? Are there warning signs you can watch out for, and what should you do if you think your child is considering suicide? Join us as we discuss this national crisis.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript


LISA CLARK: I'm Lisa Clark. Thanks for joining us for this Webcast. Suicide among our nation's youth has increased dramatically over the years. It's now listed as the second leading cause of death in teenagers. That's a disturbing statistic, but one which every parent should face. What drives a child to take his or her life? Are there warning signs you can watch out for? And what should you do if you think your child is considering suicide? Here to discuss this issue is an expert in the field, Dr. Peter Jensen, who is a Professor of Child Psychiatry at Columbia University. Thanks for being here, Dr. Jensen.

How common is teen suicide?

PETER JENSEN, MD: We know that in actual fact teen suicide has increased over the years to a point where- it used to be below the adults levels, and now it's actually risen to adult levels. It's the second most common leading cause of death among adolescents. So it's a major public health problem. And really only surpassed by auto accidents as a cause of death in teenagers.

LISA CLARK: Now there are some studies which suggest that fully a quarter, 25 percent of adolescent kids, consider suicide at some point.

PETER JENSEN, MD: Suicide thinking, or thinking about death and dying, is not a terribly uncommon thing among adolescents. That's correct. It's a very different thing, on the other hand, to actually form a plan, to make a specific attempt. Suicide attempts are relatively common. Completed suicide, of course, is much less common. But again, when it does happen, it's a devastating condition for the family and all involved.

LISA CLARK: What sorts of factors may lead up to a suicide attempt? What can parents be on the lookout for?

PETER JENSEN, MD: In terms of children who actually complete suicide, we know that the greatest risk factors are having a mental health disorder. Sometimes concomitant or co-occurring substance use would put a youth at risk. But depression, probably the single leading cause would be associated with the suicide.

Now there are often precipitants. So while a child might have depression, or a youth might have depression, there may be also a stressful event that happens on top of that depression that seems to be a final, if you will, straw. Sometimes a youth, we know from some situations, will form a plan and say, you know, "If this happens, then that's it, I'm going to do it."

LISA CLARK: Right. Romantic breakups are a common catalyst.

There is a preponderance of white older adolescent males who attempt suicide, or complete suicide. Why do you think that is?

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