Suicide, depression rates among teenagers growing. Getty Images

Suicide, depression rates among teenagers growing

Suicide and depression rates among Ohio teenagers have been climbing in recent years and has led to a local push for more children’s mental health services and early interventions to help children.

The issue hit home Monday when a junior at Kettering Fairmont High School died following a Saturday suicide attempt, which prompted the district to postpone a tournament basketball game and make grief counselors available.

Dr. Greg Ramey, pediatric psychologist with Dayton Children’s Hospital, said suicide and depression are sensitive topics that can be hard for parents to bring up, but they are important topics given how common the issues are.

RELATED: Kettering Fairmont mourns death of student from suicide

Suicide deaths for Ohio’s children and young adults have increased dramatically from 2007 to 2017, Health Policy Institute of Ohio found in a report published in September. Suicide deaths have increased more than two-fold for ages 8 to 17 (35 deaths to 80 deaths) and by nearly 1.5 times for ages 18-25 (155 to 225 deaths) from 2007 to 2017. The youngest suicide victim from 2007 to 2017 was age 8.

Ohio teen suicides     
County residents 15 to 19 years old who died from suicide.      
County 20142015201620172018*
Butler24303
Champaign01000
Clark00012
Darke01000
Greene20015
Miami14002
Montgomery14254
Preble00001
Warren22422
Ohio5880739897
*Preliminary data     
Source: Ohio Department of Health    

In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Ohio children age 1-17, surpassing homicides and cancer, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

About 17 percent of U.S. high school students in 2017 said they had had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past 12 months and 7.4 percent of students said they had attempted suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Ramey said while its not an anomaly for children to have thoughts of suicide, it’s a conversation that’s not really at the forefront.

“All of us that work with kids, that love kids, that care for kids, need to figure out a way to engage them not in a one time interrogation … but in an ongoing conversation to stay engaged with them,” Ramey said.

He emphasized that it is important to not ask interrogating questions that make children feel put on the spot. It is also important to start by understanding children’s perceptions and not be dismissive even if a child’s concerns seem strange or distorted.

“If you jump in too quickly to try to convince them that ‘Oh getting a B grade on that advance placement test is no big deal,’ you just shut down that communication,” he said.

Counselors, school administrators and other adults were made available to students Sunday afternoon and Monday at Fairmont high school. The incident prompted school officials to postpone the sectional final varsity boys basketball game that was scheduled against Wayne on Saturday night. The game was played Monday night.

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with the student’s family and friends,” Superintendent Scott Inskeep said in a posting Monday.

In his note to the school district, Inskeep said he wanted to remind the community “that suicide is a very complicated act.”

“It is usually caused by a mental health condition, which can prevent a person from thinking clearly about his or her problems and how to solve them. Sometimes these conditions are not identified or noticed; other times, a person with a condition will show obvious symptoms or signs.”

Starting a conversation

When starting a conversation with their children, Ramey said a good lead in for parents can be referencing something in the media about suicide and using that as a gateway to have a conversation.

“Here’s the important thing. You don’t want to turn to your teen … and say ‘Have you ever had these feelings?’ Guarantee you, that will not work,” Ramey said. “But if you turn to your teen and say ‘Is this something that kids your age talk about much at school?’ Or ‘have you ever had any friends that you know of that felt like this?’ That will begin the conversation.”

He emphasized that it is important to not ask interrogating questions that make children feel put on the spot. It is also important to start by understanding children’s perceptions and not be dismissive even if a child’s concerns seem strange or distorted.

“If you jump in too quickly to try to convince them that ‘Oh getting a B grade on that advance placement test is no big deal,’ you just shut down that communication,” he said.

The goal is not to have a one-time conversation, but to have an ongoing conversation, he said.

“This isn’t a focus on suicide. It’s a focus on kids’ internal life and the mask they wear — that we all wear — from time to time. And it’s creating an environment of safety and security where they will let down that mask and let them into their private world,” Ramey said.

Dayton Children’s Hospital is in the midst of a major expansion of its mental health services. Starting at 10 years old, Dayton Children’s emergency department staff start to ask patients screening questions about suicide risk.

The hospital started a crisis intake program in July 2018, in October the ER staff started using a screening protocol to talk to patients 10 years and older about suicide risk, and the hospital aims to open its first inpatient mental health unit in July.

If a parent is concerned that there is an acute suicide risk, they need to bring their child immediately to be evaluated. Dayton Children’s has a behavioral health crisis center for evaluating children with a mental health crisis. If it is not a crisis situation, Ramey said parents should call their doctor and get connected with the right mental health help.

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