September 16, 2011

Suicidal Teens Not Getting Enough Help

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Over 70 percent of teenagers at risk of suicide do not receive mental health services

(dailyRx News) The teenage years are rarely easy for anyone, but for many it can be a time of severe depression or anxiety, even leading to suicidal thoughts.

But more than seven out of 10 of these teenagers never receive any sort of mental health care.

This is even more troubling when you realize that suicide is the third leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For children between the ages of 10 and 14, it's the fourth leading cause of death. Teen suicide is a very real issue today in the United States, says Carolyn A. McCarty of Seattle Children's Research Institute.

"Contact a local therapist if your child needs care."

McCarty led a team of researchers from Seattle Children's, the University of Washington (UW), and Group Health Research Institute, to examine what mental healthcare services that suicidal teens were getting.

The team studied 198 children aged 13 to 18 over two years; 99 of them had endorsed suicidal thoughts and the other 99 acted as the control group. From medical records as well as interviews conducted with the teens and their parents, researchers found that only 13 percent of teens with suicidal thoughts had received any mental health visits.

Even when all types of mental health services were combined (including care from outside sources and antidepressant use), still only 26 percent received any services in the previous year. These low rates of mental health services were despite being eligible for, and having access to, mental healthcare with relatively small co-pays.

Although many experts consider suicidal thoughts during adolescence to be normal, this study confirms teens with suicidal ideation experience more functional impairment such as interpersonal difficulties, school problems, and mental health problems. They had significantly more severe depression, a greater prevalence of lifetime diagnosis of depression or anxiety, and higher scores of pediatric chronic disease. Identifying suicidal ideation is critical to suicide prevention.

"Until now, we’ve known very little about how much or how little suicidal teens use healthcare services,” McCarty said. "We found it particularly striking to observe such low rates of healthcare service use among most teens in our study.

The findings were published in the September 2011 issue of Academic Pediatrics.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
September 16, 2011

Last Updated:
September 16, 2011