Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's UP with the Suicide Rate?

This just in Sept. 8-07 from the St. Catharines Standard:

"Girls' suicide rate in U.S. highest in 15 years"

The suicide rate among preteen and teenage girls in the United States rose to its highest level in 15 years, and hanging surpassed guns as the preferred method, federal health officials reported Thursday. The biggest jump - about 76 per cent - was in the suicide rate for girls ages 10-14 from 2003 to 2004. There were 94 suicides in that age group in 2004, compared to 56 in 2003. That's a rate of fewer than one per 100,000 population. Overall, suicide was the third leading cause of death among young Americans in 2004, accounting for 4,599 deaths.

What's wrong with this picture? Think about this... the biggest increase in death by suicide in the US, is among girls 10-14 years of age. Sure, the statisticians say that only amounts to one per 100,000 population. But look at it this way: in the city of St. Catharines, with an estimated population of 300,000, that's three families this year who might have to bury their baby girls. In a city of 1 million - that's 30 families that will put their 10-14 year old in the ground. Is that acceptable to you? Almost 4600 American families lost their kids to suicide in 2004 - who knows what the stats will read when the studies for 2006 and 2007 come out. In Canada,
completed suicide is about 3½ times higher for adolescent boys than girls in Canada, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadian young people aged 15-19. I don't know about you but I find these stats alarming.

We all have a responsibility to our kids - to teach them how to resolve conflict, how to work through problems, how to ask for help, and how to help others.

We parents have a responsibility to be aware of what is happening with our kids and to stop burying our heads in the sand, hoping that their dark moods will be just a passing phase. We need to stop trying to be their BUDDY and start being their PARENT. Friendship will flow naturally from a healthy child/parent relationship. Permissiveness is not the answer. Being a heavy handed authoritarian is not the answer either. BUT kids need boundaries. They need to feel secure. They need to know that there are alternative solutions for every problem. They need to have a voice for their emotions, including their anger, fear, and depression.

Educators too have a responsibility to teach these solutions in the schools. We've come a long way in drug education - what about talking about issues that lead kids to experiment with drugs? While we don't want to give kids any ideas... we have to realize that MTV is raising our kids while we sit idly by, hoping for the best. Pardon my rant, but I believe that there are other alternatives to suicide. Suicide is a desperate act - a cry for help from a desperate person. I DON'T believe that any pre-teen or teenager (or anyone else for that matter) should have to feel so alone and so detached from his/her world that s/he has to turn to suicide.

There are several factors that can lead to childhood depression or anti-social/aggressive behaviour. Among them are family intactness (married/co-habiting/divorced or separated parents), the presence or absence of extended family support, behavioural trends from as early as age 3, pro-social or anti-social parenting, whether or not a child is popular, rejected, or neglected in school, and the list goes on. Anger Solutions gives kids a system for expressing their feelings about negative topics; teaches parents how to behave like grownups so they can set a good example for their kids; gives safe and appropriate alternatives to self-abusive behaviours and anger turned out-ward. In a nutshell, Anger Solutions(TM) teaches people of any age how to deal with their emotions and their problems more effectively.

I have been advocating for several years now that this material needs to be introduced into schools at the elementary level. I am typically called into high schools to talk about stress and self-esteem, and that's fine, but what about the kids who will never make it to high school? We need to begin interventions earlier, and stop taking it forgranted that "little kids don't have problems". Let's face the truth, folks. The stats don't lie.