September is Suicide Prevention Month.

It’s hard enough talking honestly about mental illness; each of us has our own perspective, bias, and fear regarding anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and the rest of the list of mental health disorders that we touched on in yesterday’s PediaBlog post. But no one likes talking about suicide. Many of us can only imagine the utter desperation one must feel to end their own lives, suddenly and usually violently, so suicide is an understandably uncomfortable topic. Today is a good time to get out of our comfort zones, at least for a little while, and talk about this dreadful subject.

Here are some statistics from the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and the CDC  regarding suicide in the United States:

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • It is the 2nd leading cause of death in people between the ages of 10-34.
  • More than 42,000 Americans committed suicide in 2014, the highest number (almost 40% of the total) among white men between 45-64 years old.
  • Suicide attempts are much more common than completed suicides (25 attempts for every suicide).
  • On average, there are 117 suicides per day. (That would make nearly 3,000 suicide attempts per day.)
  • Men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women. White males account for 70% of the total.
  • More than 1 million people reported making a suicide attempt in the past year.
  • More than 2 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year.
  • Most people who engage in suicidal behavior never seek mental health services.
  • Firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides.


The National Institute of Mental Health and the CDC  offer these more common risk factors for suicidal behavior:

  • History of depression or other mental health disorders.
  • History of alcohol and other substance abuse.
  • History of certain medical conditions, including those which cause chronic pain.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Family history or personal history of child abuse and other forms of violence.
  • Previous suicide attempt(s).
  • Easy access to lethal methods, most commonly guns in the house.
  • Recent loss (relational, social, work, financial, etc.).
  • Exposure to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities.
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts.
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatments.


Another risk factor extremely relevant in pediatrics is a history of being bullied.

The CDC also considers the costs of suicide to society, with survivors paying an especially steep price:

  • A survivor of suicide is a family member or friend of a person who died by suicide.
  • Surviving the loss of loved one to suicide is a risk factor for suicide.
  • Surviving family members and close friends are deeply impacted by each suicide and experience a range of complex grief reactions including, guilt, anger, abandonment, denial, helplessness, and shock.
  • No exact figure exists, but it is estimated that a median of between 6 and 32 survivors exist for each suicide, depending on the definition used.
  • According to another estimate, approximately 7% of the U.S. population knew someone who died by suicide during the past 12 months.


Suicide is preventable if everyone in our families, our circle of friends, and our communities keeps ears open and eyes peeled. One resource that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For teenagers living in the Pittsburgh area, the STAR-Center (Services for Teens At Risk) is an extremely important resource that concerned parents should bookmark:

The STAR-Center specializes in preventing and treating suicidal behaviors, depression, and anxiety in teens and pre-teens through clinical services, educational outreach, professional training, support groups, and research efforts.


The STAR-Center lists these signs and symptoms of depression which may put teenagers at risk for committing suicide:

  • inability to enjoy things that were once fun
  • changes in sleep habits
  • sad, low, or irritable mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • withdrawal from family and friends
  • feelings of guilt
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • low self-esteem


Run through the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, the STAR-Center offers:

Complete psychiatric evaluation, risk assessment, and comprehensive treatment program. Outpatient treatment with cognitive behavior therapy and/or pharmacotherapy for youth ages seven to eighteen with depression, anxiety, or suicidal behavior.


Finally, one more extremely important resource that parents with children at risk should keep in mind is the re:solve Crisis Network — 1-888-7-YOU CAN (1-888-796-8226) — where you can speak with a trained counselor any time.


(Back pat: Terri Otteni, R.N., Pediatric Alliance — Northland)