Statistics show it’s time to start talking about kids and suicide

Acting on the advice of experts, schools have pretty well lowered the cone of silence on the issue of suicides by students. They’re worried that it will lead to a copycat syndrome.

So it’s shocking to learn, as we did via NPR today, that middle school suicides have reached an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Kids spend a lot of time at school … it’s where they live their lives,” says David Jobes, who heads the Suicide Prevention Lab at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. “Suicide prevention has been focused on schools for a long time because it’s a place where kids are and where a lot of problems can manifest.”

Many educators don’t feel comfortable talking about suicide, or often don’t know what to do or say when a student needs help, Jobes says. He recommends resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that are specific to schools.

“It’s really hard to prevent it, if we don’t know it’s there,” he says. So educators shouldn’t be afraid to talk about suicide — because saving lives begins with “asking a question.”

But they are afraid to talk about it and, moreover, the news media is afraid to write about it for the same reason.

Clearly, however, that “silence as a solution” plan hasn’t worked.

This graph, from the CDC, would appear to show that talking about motor vehicle safety has worked; perhaps being more open about suicide would have the same effect.

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Says the CDC:

In 1999, the mortality rate for children and adolescents aged 10–14 years for deaths from motor vehicle traffic injury (4.5 per 100,000) was about four times higher than the rate for deaths for suicide and homicide (both at 1.2). From 1999 to 2014, the death rate for motor vehicle traffic injury declined 58%, to 1.9 in 2014 (384 deaths). From 1999 to 2007, the death rate for suicide fluctuated and then doubled from 2007 (0.9) to 2014 (2.1, 425 deaths). The death rate for homicide gradually declined to 0.8 in 2014. In 2013 and 2014, the differences between death rates for motor vehicle traffic injury and suicide were not statistically significant.

“Any rise [in youth suicides] should be of concern, there’s no doubt,” Mark Kaplan, a professor of social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Reuters.

“In time we might uncover some reasons, but a cautionary note not to rush to any conclusions from this,” Kaplan said.

  • John

    I’m no expert on suicide/mental health, but I’ve never met a problem anywhere that got solved by pretending it didn’t exist. I would have been far more shocked to see that suicides had decreased while nobody is talking about it.

    • Mike Worcester

      // I’ve never met a problem anywhere that got solved by pretending it didn’t exist.

      Exactly! Ty for saying that.

  • Laurie K.

    Identifying the problem and being able to openly discuss depression is the first step and it is vital. But we, as a nation, are going to have figure out how to provide resources and assistance to those in need of mental health services. Without getting into too much personal detail, I have had a child in need of mental health services only to find a two to three month waiting list for professionals in our area. We have a triage system – the 72 hour “emergency admission” hold, which does nothing more than provide a safe environment for 3 days. Mental health services are rarely provided during this “emergency admission”.