Childhood and adolescent suicides are a serious threat

February 27, 2022

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Childhood and adolescent suicides are a serious threat

The University of South Florida’s College of Public Health worked with Alicia and I to develop the Uplift Program, an antidepression program which was very successful and helped a great many people. The program formed the basis for our books “Creating Optimism” and “Raising an Optimistic Child.”

The college is still in the forefront of research on community mental health issues so the study that they presented at a recent symposium caught my eye since I think it might be the most significant research presented this week.

One horrifying statistic that they found was the suicide is a leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds in Florida. Studies in other states in the US as well as in Europe (reported previously in TR) have recently come to broadly similar conclusions. What are we doing to our children?

The team reviewed 5,017 victims’ cases from 2019 that showed that 69 percent of violent deaths in Florida were caused by suicide. The remainder are primarily attributed to homicide. While most suicide victims tend to be middle-aged or older-white males, the researchers are also studying the increasing number of suicides among Black males, especially younger Black males between the ages of 10 and 24.

What the researchers say: “Suicides increasing in the younger age groups is critical to study,” said the lead author. “Not enough study has been done especially among underrepresented youth, so we are using what we discovered to delve deeper into the suicide data of these individuals.”

The researchers combed through thousands of death certificates and reports provided by 16 medical examiners district offices and 24 law enforcement agencies, representing more than 40 percent of the state, and sent the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The team wrote narratives from the law enforcement and medical examiner reports. Codes developed from the narratives describe recent life events, known history of psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression and ADHD, known history of self-injurious behavior, engagement with law enforcement, suicide method and scene information.

“We are humanizing the victims, rather than focusing solely on statistics, which allows for more effective intervention strategies to prevent deaths,” the researchers said.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Florida had the third-highest number of violent deaths in 2019, behind California and Texas.

So, what? Prior research has shown that the leading underlying societal causes of youth suicide are: inequality, poverty, unequal health provision, domestic violence caused by a father’s sense of disempowerment due to job loss or income decline.

This week a new study indicated that suicide among LGBTQ adolescents, especially Black adolescents, was largely a result of increasing anti-LGBTQ policies in a number of US states and structural racism.

A recent study established a link between pollution—especially air pollution—and suicide. Again, the young were most affected. And yet another showed that the increasing lack of connection with the natural world was a factor in suicide in young people.

Added to all of this a new book shows that violence to self and others (including domestic violence) is increasing due to climate change.

However, every one of these causal agents are only symptoms of a much larger problem—we are simply living in ways that are inimical to our evolutionary design specs. Our society, our workplaces, our political systems, the way our families and communities are structured, even our belief and economic systems are simply contrary to our genetics.

This increases the stress placed upon our mental and physical systems. When the stress becomes too great, we die—either by suicide or by the collapse of our immune systems. This is true of both adults and children—and not just in Florida!

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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