Suicide is a leading cause of death in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falling behind only homicide and accidents. A new report conducted by the Orange County Health Agency, the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the Orange County sheriff-coroner’s office, entitled “Risk Factors for Teen Self-Injury and Suicide in Orange County,” found that more than 700 teens are admitted to hospitals in the county each year for self-harm and related injuries. The report reviewed data on children and teens in the county ages 10 to 19 from 2009 to 2013. During this time period, 65 of these children and teens committed suicide. As the Orange County Health Agency’s research and planning manager, Curtis Condon, notes, “It definitely tells us that there is a need for mental health care among our youth population that is unmet.”
According to the report, the largest risk factors leading to self-harm and suicide attempts is diagnosis of a mental health disorder or showing signs of a mental health disorder. After these, the main risk factors include substance abuse, prior suicide threats and conflict in school. Females were 70 percent more likely to hurt themselves than commit suicide while males were 70 percent more likely to kill themselves. Oladele Ogunseitan, chairman of UCI’s population health and disease prevention program explains, “It shows that females use self-injury as a means to ask for help and males keep things to themselves and are more aggressive in carrying out a fatal resolution.”
Other data from the report notes that almost 81 percent of the 65 children and teens who committed suicide during the time period studied struggled with depression. Twenty-seven percent of those who committed suicide were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Though the county is working to reduce these numbers, the report does reflect that the rate of self-inflicted injury among children and teens in the county during the time data was collected is 156.3 per 100,000 children and teens, which is lower than the state’s rate of 212.7 per 100,000.
The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that psychological, environmental and social factors all contribute to an individual’s risk of engaging in self-harm and/or suicide. These can vary depending on an individual’s age, gender, ethnicity, family and life events. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached by anyone at 1-800-273-TALK, suggests that there are certain circumstances that reduce the chances of an individual resorting to self-harm. These include having access to effective care for mental health, physical and substance abuse disorders, having supportive relationships within family and community and having cultural and/or religious beliefs discouraging suicide. The development of problem-solving, conflict resolution and coping skills also helps reduce the risk of an individual turning to self-harm.
The American Psychological Association notes that warning signs of suicidal actions include talking about dying, recent loss, changes in behavior, changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns, low self-esteem and no hope for the future. Many times, mental health issues are dismissed in teens as angst or hormones. Ogunseitan recognizes the importance of addressing signs of mental health issues, stating, “We can’t write off everything as a teen being a teen. It also doesn’t mean you need to be suspicious of everything. It is important to have more public information and awareness of this issue so we are able to identify the troubling signs.”
If you or your child is engaging in self-harm and/or struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer