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State warns of rising self-harm rates

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jun. 05, 2017 - 6:02 AM

By Tommy Culkin

The Clayton Tribune

A recent study by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has turned up troubling results — child and teenage suicide numbers have risen in recent years.

Although numbers for 2016 haven’t been finalized, early estimates show the number of child and teenage suicides at 35 for the year. Of those, 21 were between the ages of 15-17, and 14 were between the ages of 10-14.

Already in 2017, 18 children have reportedly completed suicide in Georgia, the GBI report states.

The numbers represent a growing trend in the state. In Georgia, suicide is the third leading cause of death of school-aged youth between 10 and 17, said Sally vander Straeten, the suicide prevention coordinator with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

According to the Georgia Student Health Survey II given to teens during the 2015-2016 school year, more than 57,000 students seriously considered attempting suicide, and more than 27,000 young people said they had attempted suicide at least once in the last year.

From 2011-15, there were 174 deaths of school-aged youth between the ages of 5 and 17, according to the Online Analytical Statistical Information System of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“The overwhelming majority of individuals who struggle with thoughts of suicide and even attempt suicide will go on to live out their lives,” Straeten said. “The numbers underscore the need for continued attention to provide individuals at risk for dying by suicide the support and resources they need to recover.”

The trend is not limited to Georgia. Earlier in May, the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting reported a steady increase in hospitalizations due to suicidality and serious self-harm has been seen from 2008-15.

Straeten said it’s hard to determine concrete reasons why rates are increasing. However, she said state agencies are working to educate school personnel, behavioral health providers and community members on how to recognize suicidal youth.

Suicide and depression are extremely complex issues to unravel, Straeten said. Experts agree there is never just one cause for suicide, but Straeten said family problems, bullying by peers, isolation, schoolwork pressures and self-image problems.

And while depression is the mental health issue mostly commonly linked to suicidal thoughts, other mental health diagnoses put people at risk of attempting or dying by suicide.

People who have anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, certain kinds of personality disorders, and substance abuse disorders are at higher risk for suicide. When people have two or more mental health conditions, they are at even higher risk. Additionally, people who suffer from chronic pain from many medical conditions are at higher risk for suicide.

There are many warning signs that youth might be contemplating suicide, such as talking about suicide, expressing hopelessness for the future, displaying severe emotional distress and displaying sudden changes in behavior.

The DBHDD partners with many behavioral health organizations to offer a number of services to reduce suicide, including substance abuse and mental health services. Youth can be helped in a clubhouse setting, outpatient setting or crisis stabilization unit.

“Staff in comprehensive community programs are trained to identify and support youth and their families who are at risk of suicide,” Straeten said. “Access to programs for youth can be gained by calling the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 800-715-4225.”