According to an analysis led by Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D. of the National Institute of Mental Health, most teens who are thinking of suicide or already attempted suicide have not received appropriate mental health services. More than 10,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 completed the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), and answered questions about whether they had any suicidal thoughts (ideation), plans, or actions in the year immediately preceeding the survey.
The study found that approximately 3% of teens had experienced suicidal thoughts. Between 50 and 75% of teens who had suicidal ideation had been in recent contact with a health provider, but only had 3 or fewer visits with the provider, suggesting that treatment tends to end prematurely. In addition, most teens with suicidal ideation did not receive specialized mental health care.
Dr. Merikangas’s findings suggest that mood disorders like depression and/or bipolar disorder are not the only route to teen suicide. While suicidal behavior among youth is often associated with major depression, it can also be associated with a wide range of other mental health problems as well as physical health problems.
The study recommends that physicians should include a suicide risk assessment as part of the physical and mental health care for teens. The study concludes that teens should be continually monitored for suicidal ideation and behavior, even if they are currently in treatment.
Learning the signs and symptoms of depression as well is an important first step. Talking about suicide does not “put the idea in their head,” and letting a teen go untreated can lead to suicide. Learn how to talk to a teen about suicide by watching our free one-hour Teen Depression webinar.