Suicide Still Major Concern For Teens Even after Treatment, Study Finds

Jan 23, 2013


In a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry, most adolescents who were surveyed developed thoughts of suicide after they had already received mental health treatment.

The study, which was published on Jan. 9, 2013, surveyed nearly 6,483 adolescents aged 13 to 18.

“Suicidal behaviors are common among U.S. adolescents, with rates that approach those of adults,” the study concluded, “Suicidal behaviors are among the leading causes of death worldwide, especially among adolescents and young adults.”

In 2010, 4,867 youths between ages 10 and 24 died by suicide. It was the second leading cause of death for those in that age group.

According to the study, led by Matthew K. Nock, Ph.D. of Harvard University, 12 percent of adolescents who were surveyed had thoughts of attempting suicide. In fact, one-third of those who had thoughts of suicide had developed a plan for suicide and another one-third had made an actual attempt.

As the researchers expected, thoughts of suicide were very low among adolescents between age 10 and 12. Thoughts of suicide increased between the ages of 12 and 17.

The study also corroborated previous research finding girls to have higher rates of nonlethal suicidal behavior than boys. However, boys use more lethal methods of suicide such as firearms and therefore are more likely to die by suicide.

But again, the most glaring aspect of the study had been the results that over 55 percent of adolescents had developed thoughts of suicide after receiving mental health treatment.

In fact, 80 percent of adolescents with suicidal thoughts do receive some sort of mental health treatment.

This has brought to question the effectiveness of current mental health treatment for adolescents, and whether new ways of treating adolescents living with mental illness have to be devised.

The report said nothing about whether the therapies given were state of the art or carefully done, and it is possible that some of the treatments prevented suicide attempts, said Nock in a recent New York Times article.

Despite the fact that some attempts could have been prevented by mental health treatments, the study notes “that treatment does not always succeed in this way because the adolescents in the NCS-A [the first national survey of U.S. adolescents living with a wide range of mental illness and suicidal behaviors] who received treatment prior to their first attempt went on to make an attempt anyway.”

Despite the results of the study, it remains vital for adults to be supportive and accessible for adolescents receiving mental health treatment. Studies have shown that asking about suicide, or encouraging loved ones to get help, does not increase the likelihood of suicide, but in fact can help prevent suicide.

Click here to learn more about who is at risk for suicide, how suicide can be prevented and how friends and family members can help.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).