BayWellness — Fall 2015
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Dr. Nanditha Krishnamsetty


“A parent shouldn’t hesitate to hospitalize their child if they fear for their life. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” cautions Dr. Krishnamsetty.

For a young person to be so unbearably unhappy that they would choose to kill themselves is something that’s almost too painful for a parent to think about. But with the increasing prevalence of youth suicide, no parent can afford to ignore the possibility.

“One of the more difficult challenges of parenting is realizing that you don’t always know what your children are thinking and feeling,” says psychiatrist Dr. Nanditha Krishnamsetty. “You may be aware that suicide is a leading cause of death in adolescence, but you can’t imagine your child might become one of those statistics.”

Suicide is a serious public health problem that affects even young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people are firearms (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).

Attempted suicide is a serious problem in itself, since more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13 percent reported creating a plan, and 8 percent reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.

Between the sexes, teen boys are more than four times as likely to commit suicide as girls. But girls are known to think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys. The difference is the method; girls attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves, and thankfully most are found in time and rescued. Boys tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.

If you ever hear your teen say, “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide,” always take such statements seriously and immediately seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional. “Don’t walk away. Don’t wait,” urges Dr. Krishnamsetty. “Get them to a hospital immediately, even if they don’t want to go or say they were just fooling with you.”

Hospitalization is needed whenever a teen is a danger to him or herself. Extreme cutting, bizarre behavior, extreme depression, suicidal thoughts, or excessive drug or alcohol use coupled with emotional issues are just a few of the symptoms that might warrant hospitalization. “A parent shouldn’t hesitate to hospitalize their child if they fear for their life. It’s better to be safe than sorry,” cautions Dr. Krishnamsetty.

“If you see any signs that your teen may be having suicidal thoughts,” says Dr. Krishnamsetty, “talk to them about your concerns and seek professional help from a physician or a qualified mental health professional. With the support of family and appropriate treatment, teenagers who are suicidal can heal and return to more healthy thinking.”

Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Too often, victims are blamed, and their families and friends are left stigmatized. As a result, people do not communicate openly about suicide.

“The good news is that research over the last several decades has uncovered a wealth of information on the causes of suicide and on prevention strategies,” concludes Dr. Krishnamsetty. “If the possibility of suicide is a concern in your family, talk with a health care professional and take steps to prevent youth suicide.”

Recognize just some of the factors that can put a teen at risk for suicide:

-A recent or serious loss, such as the death of a family member, a friend or a pet. The separation or a divorce of parents, or a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent losing a job, or the family losing their home.

-A psychiatric disorder, particularly a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder, or a trauma or stress-related disorder.

-Prior suicide attempts increase risk for another suicide attempt.

-Alcohol and other substance abuse disorders.

-Struggling with sexual orientation in an environment that is not respectful or accepting of that orientation.

-A family history of suicide is something that can be really significant and concerning, as is a history of domestic violence, child abuse or neglect.

-Lack of social support. A child who doesn’t feel support from significant adults in her life, as well as her friends, can become so isolated that suicide seems to present the only way out of her problems.

-Bullying. We know that being a victim of bullying is a risk factor, but there’s also some evidence that kids who are bullies may be at increased risk for suicidal behavior.

-Access to lethal means, like firearms and pills.

-Stigma associated with asking for help.

-Barriers to accessing mental health services such as lack of bilingual service providers, unreliable transportation, and the financial cost of services.

-Cultural and religious beliefs that suicide is a noble way to resolve a personal dilemma.

Be aware of some warning signs that your teenager may be having suicidal thoughts:

-Beginning to isolate themselves, pulling away from friends or family

-No longer participating in what were their favorite things or activities

-Recently-developed trouble thinking clearly

-Changes in their personality (darker, more anxious, or non-caring)

-Changes in eating or sleeping habits

-Talking about suicide or death in general

-Expressing feelings of hopelessness or guilt

-Self-destructive behavior (substance abuse, dangerous driving, recklessness, excessive risk taking)

-Changes in their personal hygiene and appearance

-Anxiety-related physical problems (stomachaches, headaches, hives, fatigue, blurred vision)

-Having difficulty accepting praise or rewards.