Assessing Suicide Risk in Adolescents
By Curtis Reed
Assessing suicide risk in adolescents should be done by professional therapeutic practitioners. However, we suggest that parents of troubled adolescents learn to be aware of the symptoms and signs of suicide. The consequences of "not knowing" is horrifying, and therefore if you have a troubled teenager and he or she is experiencing any sort of unusual or problematic behavior you will want to pay strict attention and monitor it closely.
Adolescent suicide is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide among adolescents ages 15 – 24 years old (National Center for Health Statistics 2000). As a parent of a troubled teen you should know that adolescent suicide is increasing at an alarming rate.
Parents of adolescent males need to be doubly concerned. Adolescent males and females complete suicide at a comparable rate between the ages of 10 – 14. However, teenage boys ages 15 – 19 commit suicide 3.6 times more often than teenage girls. This gender difference further increases through ages 20 – 24.
Professional Assessment of Adolescent Suicide Risk
While more adolescent boys complete suicide, adolescent girls have a much higher rate of attempting suicide (Center for Disease Control; CDC, 1995). Adolescent girls often seek attention, however if they succeed with their attempt at suicide, even if they were just seeking attention (manipulation) the consequences are unthinkable.
Many troubled teens suffer from developmental delays (emotional immaturity) and intellectual disabilities (learning disorders). Currently, there is no standard method to study suicide risk in youth with developmental delays or intellectual disabilities. Youth with developmental delays and intellectual disabilities are often excluded from studies that are used to develop these methods. As a result, most current suicide risk assessments have not been tested for use with people with these issues. Our recommendation is that parents of troubled teens get help immediately when the first signs of risk emerge.
Adolescent suicide research has, by and large, focused on demographic risk factors (Brent, Baugher, & Bridge, 1999; Levy, Jurkovic, & Spirito, 1995). This approach provides descriptive data and correlates demographics with suicide risk. Numerous studies have examined the incidence of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts by age, race, educational level, family background, religion, socioeconomic level, sexual orientation, and other demographic variables.