September 27, 2023

Early identification of those at risk opens the door for life-saving intervention.

As of 2023, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people (ages 10 to 14) in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. In Tennessee, 54 deaths were recorded among persons aged 10 to 19 in 2020.

The number of school-age children and adolescents hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts has more than doubled since 2008, according to a Vanderbilt-led study published in Pediatrics. The study, “Hospitalization for Suicide Ideation or Attempt,” looked at trends in emergency room and inpatient encounters for suicide ideation and attempts in children ages 5 to 17 years at U.S. children’s hospitals from 2008 to 2015.

These statistics, and more reported since, underscore the need for early identification of those at risk so they can get the life-saving help they need. Recognition of early warning signs that indicate someone is suicidal can help.

“One important thing to highlight is the profound impact of social media and digital environments on adolescent and teen mental health,” said Dr. Althea Wroblewski, a pediatric psychiatrist at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “I encourage parents to monitor their child’s social media accounts and to consider downloading parental monitoring apps that can alert them to red flags such as suicidal statements.”

Warning signs:

  • Previous attempts, or experiencing the loss of a friend/family member by suicide increases risk;
  • A teen talking about suicide, expressing thoughts about ending one’s life;
  • Withdrawing from friends and family;
  • Drastic changes in behavior at home or school, especially changes eating or sleeping habits;
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance, activities, or schoolwork/grades;
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness;
  • Increase in risk-taking behaviors, including increased alcohol or drug use

Suicidal ideation should never be ignored. If a teenager that you know has any of these warning signs, and especially if he or she has talked about suicide, take it seriously and reach out for help.

“Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Asking about suicide does not lead to an increase of suicidal thoughts. If a child does indicate experiencing suicidal ideation there are resources that can help,” said Wroblewski.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to 988 Suicide and Life Crisis. Its hotline number, which serves the U.S., is simply 988.  This organization provides confidential support, free of charge. 

child with anxiety

Finding help

If your child is struggling, the next best step is to talk with your pediatrician, who can assess and make any needed referrals. Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s Pediatric Primary Care clinics ensure quality care for your child as close to home as possible, with 10 locations in Middle Tennessee.

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