Attention must be paid to teens

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 13, 2002

Outside, the summer sky is clear and blue and from north to south, east to west, young children are playing. But too many teen-agers are going through this season (and the rest of the year) seeing only dark clouds and thinking about suicide.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released information today from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Included in the data: About 3 million youths from ages 12 to 17 have seriously considered killing themselves, or even tried it in 2000. This information was collected for the first time in a survey that year. No statistics were provided for last year, but this may be due to the time it takes to collect such information. Nonetheless, we’re inclined to believe that the numbers have noticeably risen since that time.

As you might expect, alcohol and illicit drugs are much to blame. In the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 13.7 percent of youths aged 14-17 considered suicide in the past year. Only 36 percent of them got counseling or mental health treatment. Further, those teens that did drink or use such drugs were more likely than those who did not partake to think about killing themselves.

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That’s not really surprising when you consider the mind-body connection. Abuse your body and certainly this will have an effect on your thinking.

The PBS special about the human brain aired several months ago showed, for example, that in adolescence the brain is undergoing another period of important development. Drinking alcohol, smoking, using any number of drugs, and depriving themselves of crucial sleep have a profound effect.

Even if substance abuse is not a part of a teen-ager’s life, there are other factors that can contribute to depression or suicide: the hormonal changes on the body, concerns about sexuality and self-image; and the ever-present matter of peer pressure.

Charles G. Curie, SAMSHA administrator, said recently in a Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network meeting &uot;We need to help teens make the link between untreated depression and the risk for suicide, and help them identify serious depression or suicide risk in a friend. We must encourage teens to tell a responsible adult when a friend is at risk for suicide.&uot;

Ultimately, parents need to gather up the courage to become more involved in their children’s lives, to steer them from risky behavior and so-called friends. They have a responsibility to explain the facts of life and direct them to professional treatment if necessary. When adults do not, they are in definite danger of losing what they obviously took for granted. After a teen kills his or herself, it’s too late.

Curie summarized the report succinctly: &uot;Even one death by suicide is one death too many.&uot; We couldn’t have said it better.