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Uniting to Promote Youth Suicide Prevention

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Those who work in youth services are thankful that there is growing public awareness of the significant mental health issues our children face, including youth suicide, the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the pandemic on our kids. In addition, there is widespread support for increasing access to mental health services for children and youth, and are many ways we can and should help children get the mental health care that they need.

Teachers, counselors, coaches, youth group leaders, and out-of-school care providers are crucial to preventing and intervening to address youth suicide. However, their efforts alone are not enough. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that while most public schools offer students some mental health services, only 56% have the capacity to provide services to all their students with such needs. We all can help increase the well-being of our children and reduce suicide rates by understanding the scope of the issue, recognizing and reducing those factors that increase suicidality, and increasing the factors and resources that can provide better protection.

The recently released 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides data related to youth suicide in our state. Here are a few data points related to Indiana high school students in grades 9-12:

  1. The share of middle and high schools providing suicide prevention-related education to their students today is higher than a decade ago. Over 86% of Indiana schools reported their teachers tried to increase student knowledge related to suicide prevention in a required course in any of grades 6 through 12 during the current school year (compared to 78.7% of schools in 2010).
  2. 30.7% of Indiana students reported that their mental health was most of the time or always not good (including stress, anxiety, and depression).
  3. 46.7% of students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for up to as long as 2 weeks in a row, leading them to stop doing some usual activities.
  4. 27.7% of Indiana students reported seriously considering attempting suicide.
  5. 22.2% of students reported having made a plan about attempting suicide.
  6. 11.8% of Hoosier students actually attempted suicide during the preceding 12 months.

Breaking down the numbers by gender, in 2021, female students in Indiana were twice as likely to attempt suicide as compared to their male peers (16.3% of female students, 7.4% of male students). In addition, the number of male students that have attempted suicide has fallen 3.1% from 2011 while the number of female students attempting suicide has risen 4.9% over the same period.

Additional disparities exist when breaking down the data by race and sexual orientation. 66.1% of multiracial students seriously considered attempting suicide, more than twice the rate of all students (27.7%), 28.5% of white students, 23.5% of black students, and 19.7% of Hispanic students. 65% of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students reported seriously considering suicide, as did 55.1% of students questioning their sexual orientation, compared with 18.4% of heterosexual students.

Recognizing warning signs is critical to helping struggling kids. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the following behaviors are warning signs for those at risk of suicide:

  • Frequently talking about wanting to die, death, or dying,
  • Commenting about feeling hopeless or worthless, having no purpose or reason to live,
  • Stating feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, seeking revenge, and being a burden on others,
  • Looking for lethal methods and making plans such as searching online or buying a firearm,
  • Increasing reckless behavior or engaging in more risky activities, seemingly without thinking,
  • Acting anxious or agitated,
  • Sleeping too little or too much,
  • Withdrawal or isolation from friends, family, and community, and
  • Dramatic mood changes such as displaying rage or extreme mood swings.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the behaviors and emotions that are related to typical youth development and those that require extra attention and concern. It is important to take action if you observe any of the warning signs. Contrary to earlier beliefs, talking to a child about suicide does not initiate suicidal thinking or increase the likelihood of suicidal behavior. By starting the conversation, you are giving a young person permission to ask questions and express their feelings and care needs.

Consistent screening and supportive responses are critical in addressing suicide as a serious public health problem. Resources for help are listed below. It is essential that families, schools, prevention organizations, and youth programs are all involved in building caring communities that prioritize the mental health and safety of our children and youth.

Lifelines and textlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7: 988
  • Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio 24/7: 988
  • Suicide Prevention Crisis Textline 24/7: Text HOME to 741741
  • The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth 24/7: (866) 488-7386
  • Trevor Textline 24/7: Text START to 678678
  • Trans Lifeline 24/7: (877) 565-8860
  • National Parent Helpline: (855) 4 A PARENT ((855) 427-2736)