Despite most suicidal teens being treated for mental health issues, a great many of them still intend to commit suicide, suggesting that these teens are not being given the right treatment.

Nearly one in eight adolescents have continuous suicidal thoughts, eighty percent of those have undergone treatment, four percent actually plan to kill themselves, and another four percent try to commit suicide, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Even though suicide is the third leading cause of death among US teens, not much is known regarding its prevalence, treatment of its precursors, correlates, and suicidal behaviors.

Matthew Nock, PhD, of Harvard University and his fellow researchers desired to approximate the lifetime prevalence of suicidal behaviors among US teens and the implications of disorders associated with suicidal behaviors.

In their study, the investigators interviewed a total of 6,483 teens between the ages of 13 and 18. They were asked questions related to the prevalence of suicidal behaviors, such as suicide ideas, planning and attempts, in face-to-face interviews. Teens' parents filled out questionnaires about their children's mental health.

Additionally, teens were questioned about the presence of mental health disorders which were categorized in four groups:
  • Anger and fear disorders: panic disorder/agoraphobia, social phobia, intermittent explosive disorder, and specific phobias.
  • Disruptive behavior disorders: oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, eating disorders, and ADHD.
  • Disruptive disorders: post-traumatic disorder, depressive disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety disorder.
  • Bipolar and other disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders

Mental Health Disorders Linked to Suicide

More than one-third of teens with suicidal thoughts progressed to make a suicide plan (33.4 percent) or tried to commit suicide, planned or unplanned (33.9 percent); subjects with a plan were more than three times as likely to try to kill themselves, than those without a plan (60.8 percent vs. 20.4 percent).

Researchers also found that suicidal thoughts were uncommon among kids up to the age of 10 years, were slightly more common among 12 year-olds, and increased in prevalence steeply from ages 12 to 17. Females were more likely than males to have suicidal thoughts or attempt to kill themselves.

Findings showed that the majority of teens with a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts meet the criteria for at least one of the disorders that were measured.

The disorders that were seen to have the strongest links with suicide attempts were: Also, most adolescents who had suicidal thoughts or planned or tried suicide had gotten "treatment", however this "treatment" could have been juvenile justice, school services, and human services.

Teen suicidal behavior rates are approaching those of adults. The majority of teens with suicidal behaviors also have a mental disorder. However, the types of disorders linked to suicidal thoughts differ from the types of disorders that predict progression from ideas to plans and attempts.

The authors conclude,"These findings also inform the debate about the use of suicide ideation as a surrogate end point in clinical trials and argue strongly for the close monitoring of adolescents with a suicide plan, especially during the first year of onset."

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald