Recently the New York Times highlighted a study from the National Center for Health Statistics that suicide rates for all age groups are increasing in the US. NPR reported that in particular, the rates of suicide for young adolescent girls aged 10-14 tripled, which some think may be due to trends in earlier puberty. In young people, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
There are many explanations for this, and yet more research to do, especially in mental health services to best understand how to help young people with suicidal thoughts have access to life-saving treatment. We agree with Dr. Borenstein, president of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, who wrote a follow-up editorial that these numbers should be a wake-up call for the U.S. to declare a war on mental illness and increase funding for life-saving research.
I had an opportunity to hear Dr. David Brent, a renowned researcher of adolescent suicide prevention, speak at the Annual STAR (Services for Teens at Risk) Center conference. Dr. Brent spoke about preventable predictors of suicide such as child maltreatment for which several evidence-based parenting programs exist but which are not yet widely implemented. He also talked about evidence-based school programs which target impulsive aggression, treating insomnia which increases the risk of suicide 2-5 fold, and decreasing access to lethal agents such as gun control and safety. He highlighted a program at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan which provides support that implementing evidence-based interventions can decrease rates of suicide. In the case of Henry Ford, suicide rates dropped dramatically by 75% and then down to 0.
Some key elements of their program include:
- a stakeholder advisory panel
- all psychotherapists being competent to provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- a protocol for suicidal patients to remove weapons from the home
- increasing access to care through: same-day access and e-mail visits
- an educational website
- educating staff in suicide prevention
- frequent check-ins by phone
- and providing families and support people with mental health education
At SOVAproject, we hope to help fight these increasing rates of suicide by designing an intervention with the goal of increasing adolescent and parent engagement in treatment. We are encouraged that implementation of evidence-based methods at centers like Henry Ford, do lead to real-word decreases in suicide rates, and are encouraged to advocate for continued suicide prevention.
Read more about advocating for suicide prevention at American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.