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Study finds more teens thinking about, attempting suicide

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah – A new study released by Vanderbilt University found more kids are either thinking about or attempting suicide – nearly twice as much as a decade ago. The research published in Pediatrics also showed school stress may play a role.

A teen counselor in Utah County talked with KSL about the role social media plays in this troubling trend.

“The clients I have seen have become more intense in the things that they’re thinking of doing,” said Jessica Miller, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at The Green House Center for Growth and Learning in Pleasant Grove.

Miller specializes in counseling teens who have struggled mentally and thought about hurting themselves. She said she was drawn into teen therapy shortly after she started working at the center.

“I found very quickly that I was able to connect with them in ways that they reported, and told me, that other counselors weren’t,” she said.

Miller was not surprised by the surge in hospitalizations of children either thinking about suicide, or attempting suicide.

“It makes me heartsick, immediately,” she said. “I feel for all these teens because to get all the way to feeling suicidal, you have to be in so much pain.”

Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee analyzed a database of hospital visits from 2008 to 2015 and discovered a doubling in the number of kids thinking about hurting themselves, or trying to hurt themselves.

They found half of the hospital encounters involved teens ages 15 to 17, and 37 percent were ages 12 to 14. Nearly 13 percent were ages 5 to 11 years old. Girls made up nearly two-thirds of the cases.

Researchers also discovered a spike during the school year.

Read the study summary

Miller said she sees the reality of those statistics every day.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get good grades, to do well,” the counselor said. “There’s also just a lot more social interaction happening during the school year that’s more difficult for them to manage.”

Teens in school see their friends more often, compare themselves to their friends, and maybe feeling less than their peers. That intensifies their anxiety level.

“It’s all just his perfect storm of difficult stuff,” she said.

The also study cited the prevalence of social media as a potential cause. Miller said she agrees.

“Really, these kids are carrying around anxiety with them,” she said referring to smart phones. “I can get on Instagram and see what my ex-boyfriend is doing right at that moment. That’s a heartbreak in that second, because I see he’s with another girl which I never would have known 5, 10,15 years ago.”

Smart phones that deliver instant gratification – or rejection – that can influence a child’s mood and thoughts right away.

“Social media being ingrained in all of the aspects of life makes it really difficult for them to have any healthy functioning because it is a constant reminder that you’re not good enough,” she said.

Parents trying to distinguish between normal teen anxiety and serious trouble should seek professional help if the child ever mentions wanting to die, or wanting to hurt themselves.

“They are jumping to it a lot quicker. So, if your kid expresses any of that ideation, you need to get help because they’re going to get stuck in that, more and more, rather than figuring it out on their own.”

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