Focus on Family: Dr. Benjamin Shain, NorthShore University HealthSystem

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Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD

NorthShore University HealthSystem
www.northshore.org

Risk Factors for Suicide:

  • Verbalizing desire to die or hopeless thoughts
  • Suicidal or self-harmful behavior
  • Family history of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Untreated psychiatric illness
  • Unsupportive social environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual or those questioning sexual identity
  • History of physical or sexual abuse or being bullied
  • Social isolation
  • Intermittent agitation
  • Use of drugs or alcohol

There is no way to absolutely predict whether a given individual will commit suicide. Risk factors for suicide are used by clinicians to provide an indication of the level of suicide risk for a particular patient at a specific time. Examples of risk factors include a family history of suicide, a history of physical or sexual abuse, mood disorders, drug or alcohol use, and lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning sexual orientation or transgender identification. An important, more recently-identified risk factor for adolescents is bullying.

Recent research has indicated that bullying predicts future mental health problems, including later suicide attempts and completed suicides, even controlling for depressive symptoms and conduct problems. Both being the bully victim and being the bully are problematic with the highest risk among adolescents who were both victims and bullies. There is now more opportunity to bully as cyberbullying has the same negative impact as face-to-face bullying.

The Internet may be an issue in several ways: cyberbullying; searching for suicide information, such as methods; learning of another’s suicide; and extensive internet use. Note that these are all by correlations, which does not tell us causation. Extensive internet use, for example, may relate to increased suicidality because depressed adolescents have a greater need for social support. This brings up another important issue, which is that the Internet is also an important source of support for adolescents, who have been increasingly relying on electronic media to stay in touch with their social network, as well as provide entertainment, do school work, and learn about interests.

Create and maintain open communication with your adolescent; learn the signs for suicidal thoughts and call your pediatrician or a mental health professional. In terms of internet use, don’t obsess over or hyper-monitor your child’s online conversations because it creates tension and breaks trust. Recognize that, in today’s society, extensive use of electronic media is developmentally appropriate and includes the good as well as the bad. This is not to say that use of the Internet should never be restricted, but parents are likely to get a better result with providing guidance than with being the “Internet police.”

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