Since the 1960’s teen suicide rates have been on the rise (Goff, 2018). In 2016 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide is now the second leading cause of death in young adults aged ten to twenty-four. Teen suicides and suicidal attempts happen in every town, city and state. Suicide is not specific to any age, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background. It crosses all boundaries. It is important to inform the public of this phenomenon so that a prevention strategy can created and implemented to save countless children from the dark clutches of suicide.
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As age increase so does the amount of suicides in adolescents. For example, in 2016 436 suicide deaths were reported for children aged ten to fourteen (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2016). Whereas there were 2,862 reported suicides of young adults between the ages of fifteen and eighteen (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2016). For both of these age groups the primary means of death was suffocation, self-inflicted gunshots and poisonings (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2017). It is speculated that for every successful suicide there are fifty other teens who attempt to take their own lives. When taking a survey from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of students in grades nine through twelve admitted to seriously considering suicide (Goff, 2018).
There are more male suicide victims than female, but it is more likely for a girl to attempt suicide than a boy (Goff, 2018). It is speculated that this is because males choose a more violent method of suicide like a shooting or hanging (Goff, 2018). Whereas females usually use a calmer method like through the use of drugs and poisons (Goff, 2018).
Culture also greatly impacts adolescent suicides. It was found through CDC surveys that youth members of smaller minorities like American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Hispanic reported more suicide attempts than Caucasian and African American youths (Goff, 2018). It is also hypothesized that cultural ideas and norms change and skew reported suicide data (Goff, 2018). This is because many cultures and religions look down upon suicide victims and see their action as sinful and selfish. To spare families the heart ache of knowing this fact some medical professionals might be warry of declaring the death a suicide (Goff, 2018). If this cultural bias did not exist, it is hypothesized that the date regarding suicides and suicidal attempts in adolescents would be much higher.
Children coming from a low socioeconomic background are also at a higher risk for suicidal attempts (Waldvogel, Ruetuer, Oberg, 2008). A very low socioeconomic status puts extra stress on children because it usually corresponds with financial stress in the household and poorer educational and community systems.
Children who do not live in a home setting are also at a higher risk for suicide. This primarily includes children who are involved with the child welfare system and the criminal justice system. It is estimated that 15% of adolescents who die by suicide live in a secure facility, detention center or residential treatment center (Florida Department of Children and Families, 2016). Teens whose families have been involved with the child welfare system are four to five times more likely to be hospitalized for a suicide attempt (Florida Department of Children and Families, 2016). Children who have been in the child welfare system have often also experiences trauma like physical or sexual abuse which also increased their likelihood of attempting suicide (Waldvogel, Ruetuer, Oberg, 2008).
While the cause of suicide in adolescents is very hard to determine and changes depending on each case, there are some similar symptoms and signs that many children display. The main one is serious and chronic mental health disorders. The most common being depression (Goff, 2018). It was estimated that from 2009 to 2013 a combined total of 120,000 teens has at least one major depressive disorder a year (Florida Department of Children and Families, 2016). Of those children, it is estimated that 69 percent did not receive any kind of mental health care.
While preventative measure to end adolescent suicides will never be one hundred percent successful, but there are tactics that can be taken to prevent some. Many studies have found that the most influential tactic to prevent adolescent suicide is through the use of a trusted adult who knows and understands the warning signals associated with adolescent suicides (Goff, 2018; Waldvogel, Ruetuer, Oberg, 2008). This also includes the creation of a “protective environment” that is free of interpersonal violence, drugs and alcohol, and has minimal assess to lethal means (King, Arango, Foster, 2017). Other prevention strategies include crisis hotlines, educational programs, and direct screening or intervention from a physician or counselor (Waldvogel, Ruetuer, Oberg, 2008). In order to severely impact suicide rates in adolescents and young children, society must create a well-rounded community approach so that young people are constantly supported and monitored in every aspect of their lives.
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In order to combat adolescent suicides in Florida, it is proposed that Department of Education create, maintain, and disperse a suicide prevention plan in all Florida public schools. So far, most states and territories have created a suicide prevention plan, yet they rarely specify how the prevention plan will be utilized in schools. In 2016 the Florida Department of Children and Families released a suicide prevention plan along with many other states, but it does not give a clear plan for implementation in a school setting. In this proposed state-wide plan, any staff that works directly with students will be required to attend four hours of mental health and suicide prevention and response training each year. This education would be crucial in keeping the staff up to date on recent research regarding mental health and suicide in school aged children. This is a gatekeeper model that has already been implemented in some schools (Mo, Ko, Xin, 2018). So far, there are has been little methodologically sound research on those programs, but some success has been seen (Mo, Ko, Xin, 2018). A gatekeeper is an individual who has contact with large numbers of community members, in this case students, as part of their daily job (Mo, Ko, Xin, 2018). Because a gatekeeper can be any one in the community, this model could be adapted for other members of the community like coaches to further support and monitor possibly suicidal children.
The continuing education will also help staff learn how to teach students about mental health and suicide. This policy would also require all students, kindergarten through twelfth grade, to have at least four hours of age-appropriate mental health and suicide prevention teachings each semester. As students age, the curriculum should grow more in-depth and should build upon other teachings. The teachings can be about any topic relating to mental health and suicide but should promote an environment of openness and understanding regarding the student’s mental health needs. This policy can serve as a primary, secondary and tertiary prevention model because it will equip the school to handle a range of students, from ones who do not have a mental health problem to those who are in crisis.
To combat funding problems, schools would receive a small stipend from the Florida Department of Education. This stipend could be used for the continuing education of the staff, for the student’s education, or a mixture of both. Even though the schools would receive a stipend, most of the cost would fall onto the school’s already existing budget. This is because the policy is relatively low-cost. There are many free or very low-cost mental health teachings so it will not be a financial burden to the teachers. Mental health and suicide curriculum for the students can be taught by staff members so there is no extra charge. The Florida Department of Children and Families Suicide Prevention Plan already has student and faculty programs that can be utilized. In order to monitor the success of this program, the rates of depressive episodes and suicide attempts in children would be collected each year. They would be compared to the previous year’s data as well as the national data. These data points are already collected by the state of Florida as well as by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention so compiling and comparing them would come at a very low-cost.
This policy would not only save the lives of children contemplating suicide but would also teach other students skills that promote choices that benefit their mental health. This program builds a support system in the school so students will feel more knowledgeable and comfortable talking about their mental health. Therefore, it will save students from every becoming seriously suicidal in the first place. In response to rising adolescent suicides and suicide attempts, Florida’s Department of Children and Families Services has introduced the idea to make changes in the system to reduce the number of suicides committed by adolescents. This policy will put that idea into action. It is relatively safe and low-cost program that could end up creating a lot of good for the children of Florida. This program creates gatekeepers to monitor and help students, as well as teaching them the skills they need to have good mental health. While this program will be based in the school, its benefits have the potential to seep into the community as a whole and help for years to come.
- Department of Children and Families Services, Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. (2016, April 15). Florida Suicide Prevention Plan. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from http://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/Florida Suicide Prevention Plan 2016-2020.pdf
- Goff, D. R. (2018). Teenage suicide. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health.
- King, C. A., Arango, A., & Foster, C. E. (2018). Emerging trends in adolescent suicide prevention research. Current Opinion in Psychology,22, 89-94. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.08.037
- Mo, P. K. H., Ko, T. T., & Xin, M. Q. (2018). School-based gatekeeper training programmes in enhancing gatekeepers’ cognitions and behaviors for adolescent suicide prevention: a systematic review. CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY AND MENTAL HEALTH, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13034-018-0233-4
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2017). 10 leading causes of injury deaths by age group highlighting violence-related injury deaths, United States – 2017. National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2016). 10 leading causes of death by age group, United States – 2016. National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Waldvogel, J. L., Rueter, M., & Oberg, C. N. (2008). Adolescent Suicide: Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, 38, 110–125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cppeds.2008.01.003
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