Suicide rates are on the rise for people of all ages, including young adolescents

Parents can help teens by learning more about mental health issues and resources that can provide adolescents with support and treatment.

Many news outlets have been covering the recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about changes in rates of suicide between 1999 and 2014. One of the statistics that has been highlighted within this news coverage is the threefold increase in the suicide rate for girls ages 10 to 14. The rates for girls in this age group increased from 0.5 to 1.5 per 100,000 during this time period. The increases for boys in this age group were not as high, climbing from 1.9 per 100,000 during 1999 to 2.6 per 100,000 in 2014.

While keeping in mind that the actual numbers of suicides among young girls are quite low, the increase in rates is significant enough to raise concerns about the mental health of girls as they move through adolescence. In a recent WebMD survey, parents of teens ages 13 to 17 indicated that their daughters have higher levels of stress than their sons. Parents also reported that girls have higher rates of depression, anxiety and physical symptoms related to stress. While parents cited homework and conflicts with parents as the most common causes of stress for both boys and girls, they also identified other causes that were more common for girls, including conflicts with friends, deciding what to do after high school, and struggles with body image.

There are many things that parents can do to help both girls and boys deal with stress, including helping them understand how positive practices like healthy eating, physical activity and mindfulness can contribute to their overall well-being and emotional resiliency. It’s also important for young people to feel like they can talk with parents and other trusted adults about issues they’re concerned about – and for these adults to also initiate these kinds of conversations. Adults should be willing to ask young people to share the positive things that are happening in their lives as well as more challenging areas such as their experiences with issues like bullying, body image, unhealthy dating relationships or feeling pressured to engage in risky behaviors.

Parents can also pay close attention to changes in behaviors that may indicate signs of serious mental health issues. On their website, the American Academy of Pediatrics lists danger signs that parents can look for related to the mental health of teens, such as excessive sleeping, loss of interest in favorite activities or a sudden decline in academic performance. The website also features helpful information on things that parents can do to prevent suicide. These include paying close attention when a child appears to be experiencing depression or anxiety – especially when these experiences are ongoing. The experts stress the importance of never minimizing threats of suicide as “teenage melodrama” and the need for parents to seek immediate help if they have concerns about what their child is going through. 

If you have concerns about the mental health of a young person within your family, don’t hesitate to talk with your pediatrician or other health provider to explore opportunities for guidance, support and treatment. You can also learn more about young people and mental health by exploring information available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health. If you need help locating adolescent mental health services, you can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to identify resources that are available in or near your community. Also keep in mind that people of any age who are in emotional distress or suicidal crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In addition, you may be interested in the variety of workshops, webinars and resources provided by Michigan State University Extension that are focused on the health and well-being of children, youth and families.

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