A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Suicide, Kids, and Mental Health

Suicide, Kids, and Mental Health

December 14, 2009

For the past two years, the Children’s Mental Health Campaign has held 19 forums on mental health needs of kids across the Commonwealth.  While each forum has been different, one statistic universally resonates with all audiences and brings home the importance of the issue: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among children between the ages of 10 – 24; of those who commit suicide, 90% (90%!) have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death.

The issue of teenage vulnerability to suicide was the subject of a November 30th National Public Radio story. Psychiatric epidemiologist Madelyn Gould stated the most significant and critical red flag that predicts adolescent suicide risk is “the presence of an underlying mental health problem.  In teens, that’s most commonly depression, anxiety, and alcohol or drug abuse.” Gould is currently studying 50 suicide clusters that have occurred in the United States.   Gould is trying to understand why a tragedy of suicide in one town may lead to additional suicides but in another town does not.
Gould draws interesting conclusions about the role of media in the creation of suicide clusters, but from a more fundamental perspective, what is striking is the extent to which mental illness remains an unspoken cause in so many of these tragedies. 

It’s not so much that 90% of young people who commit suicide have a mental illness – it’s that the illness is treatable that makes the current situation so terrible. 

Maybe if mental health was not such a taboo subject - maybe if we were able to openly discuss disorders of the brain - more young people would realize that there is another way to deal with their pain. 

The brain is part of the body.  We need to treat it as such and not be afraid to talk about how we can make it better when it doesn’t work the way it should. 

The time is NOW!

Jaspreet Chowdhary