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In the United States, nearly 1.5 million Americans attempt suicide every year.
In Texas, one person dies by suicide every two hours.
Yet, Texas is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to providing care for people with a mental illness.
That is why FOX 26 is taking an in depth look at this growing epidemic. Denise Middleton has been working on this project for several weeks.
Recent reports from various agencies show staggering numbers of people taking their own lives across the country, some as young as 10 years old.
There’s an alarming increase in deaths among teens by suicide. It is now the second leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 19. We dove into the numbers and heard from experts on why they think more teens are suffering than ever before.
“I always wanted to be perfect,” Mia Aldana says.
“Lot of pressure to try and be something you’re not,” Ian de Koster says.
“A lot of bullying,” Krista Werchitz says. “A lot of people teasing me.”
This is the grim reality of the pressures some teens often face.
Instead of enjoying their youth, too much time is spent agonizing over their flaws. Then, many experience feelings of hopelessness and depression.
Dr. Renata Nero says when that happens, teens often hurt themselves.
“Sometimes expressing suicidal ideation is a cry for help,” Dr. Nero says.
A recent report revealed that we have reached a 20-year high in the United States for young people dying by suicide. It shows an increase for those 15 to 19 years old of 47 percent.
The research hasn’t found one driving force behind this surge.
However, Dr. Nero believes there is a correlation in suicide rates and changes in society.
“If you look at the year 1999, it was around that time when internet use began to increase, social media use began to increase and it’s also during this time frame when there was a rise in cyberbullying,” Dr. Nero says.
Though not all bullying incidents end in suicide, experts we spoke to agree—there is a strong link between the two.
“Bullying is real. It’s happened for centuries,” say Bob Sanborn with Children at Risk. “It’s more prevalent now because of social media because of online bullying.”
“Cyberbullying is a big issue and it has been an issue for many years and it’s a big contributor and factor to youth suicide and so social media only feeds that,” Wykisha McKinney says.
The statistics don’t lie.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 33 percent increase in suicide rates from 1999-2017.
“We really can’t come up with a causal relationship and the act of suicide is a complex act there is no one factor,” Dr. Nero says.
In addition to bullying, other factors include: an untreated mood disorder, parental mental illness, substance or physical abuse, and difficulties dealing with their sexual orientation. Bouts of depression, stress or anxiety can also trigger thoughts of suicide.
“It’s important to note that anxiety rates have gone up significantly in the last five to ten years,” says Lauren Pursley, training specialist at Mental Health America.
Pursley says childhood trauma is another major factor.
“Two thirds of all American children before the age of 18 will experience a traumatic event,” Pursley says.
The trauma of school shootings like the one in Santa Fe, where 10 people lost their lives, can bring about suicidal thoughts whether a child survived or was directly affected by it.
Experts say even widespread disasters such as Hurricane Harvey can cause kids to suffer in ways parents might not realize.
“Sometimes we tend to minimize the type of stress that young people are under and it’s important for us to consider where they are developmentally.
When teens experience these traumas, experts say many times they don’t receive the support they need and eventually lose all hope for their future.
“It all comes down to pressure and mental health issues, and so when our kids are exposed to more of these things, you’re going to see more of the reaction in regards to how do they react. Are they open to suicide?” Sanborn says.
Far too often, many teens suffer in silence. Part of the reason is that there’s still a stigma when it comes to mental illness.
“There are a lot of different terms within society to suggest that there really is something wrong with someone who has a mental illness whereas with a physical illness they are more likely to receive support,” Dr. Nero says.
Sanborn says there needs to be improvement in the quality of mental health services across the state.
“In the state of Texas, we are 49th in funding of mental health and even recently with an influx of funding we went from 49th to 49th so we’re still not doing enough in regards to mental health,” Sanborn says.
Despite all these challenges and issues, there is hope but it starts at home.
“A lot of times they go through these things because they don’t have real friends, real people that they can turn to. Their family isn’t aware and to have someone that they can lean their shoulder on and cry …that makes a lot of difference,” Ian de Koster says.
“Letting the person know you’re there for them, that means a lot because a lot of people don’t have people there for them,” Mia Aldana says.
“There’s a way for this to change, there’s a way for this to get better,” de Koster says.
This is something that we can prevent. It is something that we as parents can do something about. It is crucial to start having these conversations about their feelings and how they deal with disappointment as early as possible because that close relationship will make a huge impact.
According to the American Association of Suicidology, an estimated quarter million people each year become suicide survivors, so this is a problem with a solution.
If you or someone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts, you can call The Harris Center Crisis Line at 713-970-7000 (Option 1).