by MATT COBBLE
Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care
Many health experts have noted that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on mental health as of late. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to focus on how to help those who are suffering.
While the national attention turns to children and teens as they begin the school year, it’s important to remember that they, too, can struggle with suicide.
Nationwide, suicide ranks among the top 10 leading causes of death. In Florida, it ranks higher at number 8.
Statistics show that no age bracket is untouched, with suicide ranking as the second-leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age, the fourth-leading cause among people 35 to 54 years of age, and the eighth-leading cause among people 55 to 64 years of age nationwide.
These numbers do not include the vast amount of non-fatal sef-harm injuries that occur alongside suicide attempts.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention tracked an increase in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts in adolescent girls ages 12-17. From late July to late August 2020, suspected sucide attempts increased by 26.2% year over year. By 2021, those numbers had increased by 50.6% year over year.
What are the red flags that parents, guardians or family members can watch for?
“When they start withdrawing from friends and family, expressing thoughts that no one loves them or that the world is falling apart, that’s when caregivers should intervene,” says Dr. Ingrid Atiles, Central Florida Health Care’s director of behavioral health.
“First and foremost, there must be open communication. Let them know that they are loved and supported, and that they have someone in their lives who is willing to listen to their concerns. When you listen, be as judgement-free as possible, and always pay attention to warning behaviors.” If an adolescent is talking about self-harming behaviors, Atiles recommends locking up any weapons that may be in the home, as well as medications or chemicals that could be used for self-harm. In addition, Atiles adds, they need to be constantly monitored. If the behaviors intensify, a mental health consultation should be scheduled.
“We are very passionate about helping the community in general in the broad scope of mental wellness,” Atiles says. “We want to share that you don’t have to be depressed or anxious to see a behavioral health professional.” Still, she acknowledges many adolescents are hesitant to seek behavioral health help.
“The most important thing a young person can do is manage these thoughts in a safe and healthy way. It’s always best to speak to a professional, but this can be a guidance counselor, a spiritual leader or a therapist.”
Central Florida Health Care has taken steps to help identify adolescents who are struggling with mental health issues.
“Our pediatricians are now screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences,” Atiles explains. ACE is a nationally normed instrument that can catch many behavioral issues early.
“Mental wellness is holistic. People assume that suicidal thoughts or behaviors are an end result of depression, but these can just as easily arise from a lack of sleep, a hormonal imbalance or nutritional deficiencies. These behaviors are a cry for help. By identifying early, we can catch these thoughts before they become actions.
“We have to normalize the conversation. Yes, it’s scary — but there is help.”