Adolescent admissions for inpatient psychiatric care have risen over 54 percent in the United States in the last five years. And, according to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, the percentage of younger children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions in the United States doubled over nearly a decade. Last year at Carrier Clinic alone, we experienced a 26 percent increase in the number of adolescent hospital admissions. The unfortunate number of recent teen suicides, sadly, supports these startling statistics.
So, how do we save our kids?
We listen. We create opportunity for conversation. We reach out to experts. We approach help with an open mind. We don’t judge.
Dr. Anthony Marino, Carrier Clinic’s chief of Adolescent Medical Services, recently said, “It’s more important to listen than to lecture, and to be as honest as possible … to let them know that things will be as good as we can work together to make them … to create in advance a supportive environment that lets kids express their fears … to let them know that we’re here for them.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
At Carrier Clinic, we applaud the superintendents of the Mercer County public school districts for hosting a public program to start a countywide focus on mental health. It isn’t easy to face the heart-breaking and alarming reality of teen suicide. And we agree with this team of educators that we must stop “fruitless finger-pointing” in order to remove the veil of stigma and get the teens in our lives talking about mental health. For school districts, an important community resource to remember is the Traumatic Loss Coalition of New Jersey. This is a statewide network offering support to professionals working with school-age youth to prevent suicide and offer trauma response assistance to schools following unfortunate losses due to suicide, homicide, accident and illness.
While adults may not always be able to understand why a teen—with their whole life and endless possibilities in front of them—would consider or attempt suicide, it is important to approach the need for help with an open mind. There is help through treatment for teens who feel hopeless. Starting with a call to your family doctor or pediatrician is key to initiating this process. In addition, there are many local and national organizations that can provide a list of support and resources in every community. There is no need to suffer in silence—or worse, to ignore a teen’s need because as adults we are ashamed of their illness.
Available treatment options are varied and include outpatient, inpatient and residential treatments. Teen suicide can be a result of an underlying mental health issue or the experience of overwhelming feelings with the perception that there is no solution. It is through the appropriate treatment that what a person is truly feeling, thinking, and dealing with can be addressed. And seeking treatment is in no way a demonstration of weakness or personal failure, but rather the most rational and compassionate choice for treating an illness.
There is no “easy button” or definitive answer to the question I posed earlier, “How do we help our kids?” but there are steps that we can take. Acknowledging the need for help, seeking treatment with a professional, connecting to community support groups, and accepting that this is no one’s fault are all steps in the right direction. Seeking help for a psychiatric illness is no different than seeking care for any other disease. We must show our children that when that path seems daunting, we will be there to support them.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, talk to your parents, a doctor, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a trusted adult, or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Donald J. Parker
President and CEO