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Teenage Suicide: Some Hopeful News

Suicide takes the lives of all too many teenagers. In fact, trailing only accidents and homicide, it’s the third leading cause of death in young people aged 15-24. But, how ‘bout this frightening stat. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

Females are more likely to make a suicide attempt; however, males are four times more likely to succeed. See, the guys aren’t as apt to reach out for help by making an attempt; so when they make their move it’s generally for keeps.

These statistics are staggering and sad. And I believe discussing teenage suicide on a panic attack and anxiety blog makes perfect sense. No doubt, anxiety can be a huge issue for a teenager, easily providing the motivation to make an attempt on their life. But, even if some form of anxiety isn’t the primary problem, its presence will only make matters worse.

The October 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry brought some hopeful news. It featured a new therapy approach gleaned from a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) funded study known as The Treatment of Adolescent Suicide Attempters Study (TASA). The study’s participants were depressed teens who’d recently attempted suicide. This novel treatment suggests a “jab-cross” combo strategy in addressing teen suicidal ideation and behavior – suicidality.

The therapy, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicide Prevention (CBT-SP) begins with a 12-week acute treatment phase. Emphasized are safety planning, insight regarding one’s pathology and circumstances, and identification of risk factors. Coping and management strategies are constructed and implemented. And a maintenance phase follows.

As was their preference, the 124 participants were allowed to choose their own mode of treatment. The choices were antidepressant medications only, CBT-SP only, or a combination of the two. 93 of them chose the combination therapy. The participants were assessed for suicidality at 6, 12, 18, and 24 weeks.

So, what did the study produce? Well, during the six months of treatment, 24 of the participants experienced what was called a “suicidal event;” which could range from intensifying ideation to an actual attempt. Reportedly, this rate of recurrence is lower than that of previous studies. And perhaps just as heartening is the fact that 70% of the participants actually completed the acute phase of the therapy, though many later opted out.

Of no surprise, the study revealed that recurrent suicidality is more prevalent in teens with high levels of self-reported suicidal ideation and depression. And high suicide risk factors, such as a history of abuse, two or more previous suicide attempts, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, and high levels of family conflict were noted. The study also showed that “front-loading” treatment had a very positive impact upon suicide reattempts.

Finally, the study emphasized that safety planning works. And it also touts stress tolerance and management work, assisting teens with their home-life and social struggles, and working diligently on coping strategies with teens who were victims of childhood trauma. And, yes, family support and cohesion greatly reduced suicidality.

So there you have it, some very important research conducted in an effort to prevent teenage suicides. What better work can there be? And what can we all do to advance the cause?