Unfortunately, it is not uncommon when we turn on the news that we hear about another young person being killed. What is rarely reported, but just as deadly, is the number of young people dying from suicide.
The Illinois Violent Death Reporting System (IVDRS) brief released today reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 10-17. Although the contents of this data brief are tough for any parent to read, it is critical for us to know the facts. Males have a higher rate of suicide than females. Hanging/Strangulation is the most common method used by young people to commit suicide; firearms are the second. Most of their deaths occur at home.
Knowing the facts can help save lives. The Illinois Violent Death Reporting System (IVDRS) was developed to help prevent future deaths. By linking data from medical examiners, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and law enforcement, we can better understand the circumstances and risk factors surrounding homicides, suicides and other violent deaths which then can be used to inform prevention efforts.
The information provided in this brief is powerful because it can help inform strategies for prevention. Harvard University’s Means Matter reports research that shows while some suicides are carefully planned, many others seem to be impulsive during a short-term crisis. Ninety percent of people who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to try again. No matter how mature a young person may seem, we know their frontal lobe (the area of executive function and decision making) is still developing. We therefore cannot assume that they have well-developed coping skills to deal with a crisis. These findings direct me as a pediatrician (and a mother!) to make sure our young people have someone (i.e. a parent, aunt, sibling or pastor) they identify before a crisis who they trust and who they promise to go to for advice no matter how grim a turn of events seems to be to them. In addition, it is important for young people not to have access to an unlocked and loaded firearm. A firearm suicide attempt is overwhelmingly fatal, negating any second chance.
So, what can you do if you are worried about a young person, but not sure if they are at risk for causing harm to themselves? The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1.800.273.TALK) is a great resource for friends and family who are worried about a loved one and also for the person who may be thinking about hurting themselves. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your physician for advice. If your physician is not comfortable with managing the problem, they should be familiar with mental health resources in the community. In addition, it is becoming more common for primary care offices to have mental health experts embedded into the clinic which really helps with access. If you think that the young person may be in immediate danger of harming themselves, take him to the emergency room or call 911.
Over the coming years, IVDRS will continue to periodically release data briefs about the circumstances about violent deaths that can help inform prevention efforts. Each victim in IVDRS lost their life prematurely, this we cannot change, but by understanding each person’s story we hope the knowledge gained can be used to help others.