With youngsters ages 10 to 14, a tragic and scary spike in suicides

While alarms have been raised about the nation’s ever-increasing numbers of suicides, mental health experts, educators, and medical researchers also are making urgent pleas for grownups to pay heightened attention to the spike in cases in which youngsters are taking their own lives.

As the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News Service reported:

“[S]uicide by children ages 10 to 14 has gone up and up. The suicide rate for that age group almost tripled from 2007 to 2017. Newly released 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 16% increase over the previous year. While experts point to a host of explanations for the alarming rise, scientific proof about cause isn’t conclusive. Some research shows correlations with social media use, cyberbullying and the internet, but studies citing them as a suicide cause are less decisive.”

It may be startling for grownups without school-age children. But youngsters as early as elementary grades are both showing signs of mental health distress and are participating in “prevention programs … teaching things like resilience, wellness, self-care and coping behaviors,” Sharon Jayson reported for KHN.

She quoted experts and educators who say that elementary and middle school students are attempting to take their lives — and, sadly, succeeding.

If you are in crisis or know someone who may be, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741. Both work 24/7. More resources are available at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

Sally Curtin, a statistician with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Jayson that agency data show “a steady, consistent increase” in youngsters’ suicide that “deserves our focus and our attention. It’s linear and has gone up every single year since 2010.” Further, Jayson reported:

“The CDC also monitors suicide attempts and self-inflicted injuries, based on data from emergency rooms. The latest CDC report published Jan. 31 found that from 2001 to 2016 such visits for those 10 and older increased 42%, with ‘substantial increases occurring in younger age groups.’ During the most recent study period, from January 2017 to December 2018, such visits increased more than 25%. For girls ages 10 to 14, data from 2009 to 2015 reflects almost a 20% increase in emergency visits for self-inflicted injury.”

Researchers haven’t found definitive causes for the tragic trend, KHN reported, noting that many experts and educators have focused on technology’s intrusions into youngsters’ lives, including as found in a study that appeared this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

“The evidence from cross-sectional, longitudinal and empirical studies ‘implicates smartphone and social media use in the increase in mental distress, self-injurious behavior and suicidality among youth.’ The review also found that social media ‘can affect adolescents’ self-view and interpersonal relationships through social comparison and negative interactions, including cyberbullying; moreover, social media content often involves normalization and even promotion of self-harm and suicidality among youth.’[Meantime, a] Pew Research Center report on cyberbullying released in 2018 found 56% of 13- to 14-year-olds had experienced cyberbullying; more than one-third said they had been the victim of offensive name-calling or false rumors.”

In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their challenges with accessing and affording mental health care that might help reduce suicide’s terrible toll. The Obama Administration took steps to boost the nation’s mental health care, calling on practitioners and providers to recognize that it should be held to the same high standards we aspire to in this country with treatments for physical disorders. But let’s face it, whether due to lingering stigma or ignorance about the severity of need, the funding and resources for mental health care in this country still lags from where it needs to be in unacceptable fashion.

We need to step up our battle against suicide at all ages, focusing, for example, on sensible gun regulation that does not abridge anyone’s constitutional rights, while also keeping weapons locked up or out of the hands of deeply troubled souls, especially in that one moment when their lives could be saved from the taking. We’ve got a lot of work to do all we can to help those in great despair, so they do not take their lives.

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