Depression

Updated 15 August 2014

Teenage suicide goes up as unemployment rises

A new study reveals a link between retrenchment and teenage suicide rates.

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When large numbers of workers lose their jobs suicide attempts increase among certain groups of teens, a new study finds.

Researchers analysed the results of a survey of more than 403,000 American teens conducted from 1997 to 2009, along with nationwide data about layoffs.

Thoughts of suicide

While the study couldn't prove cause and effect, it found that when 1 percent of a state's workers lost their jobs, suicide attempts and other suicide-related behaviours jumped 2 percent to 3 percent among girls during the following year.

The same finding held for black teens of either gender.

Specifically, thoughts of suicide and suicide plans rose among teen girls, while thoughts of suicide, suicide plans and suicide attempts increased among black teens, according to researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Read: Warning signs of suicide

"Job loss can be an unanticipated shock to a community," study author Anna Gassman-Pines, an assistant professor of public policy and a faculty fellow of the Duke Centre for Child and Family Policy, said in a university news release.

"We know that suicide increases among adults when communities are hit with widespread layoffs. Now we have evidence that teenagers are similarly affected," she explained.

Self-inflicted wounds

Each year, about 4,600 Americans aged 10 to 24 commit suicide, making it the third most common cause of death in that age group. Also, 157,000 young people aged 10 to 24 are treated for self-inflicted wounds each year, according to Duke researchers.

Experts say that teens, their parents and health care professionals should be on the lookout for signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

"Economic downturn can increase the risk for suicidal behaviour in adolescents as it does for adults," said Dr. Victor Fornari, director of the division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, and Cohen Children's Medical Centre in New Hyde Park, New York.

He believes that "screening for adolescent depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviour as part of the annual health assessment in primary care may identify those youth at greatest risk and in need of intervention."

Another expert agreed. "The important message is that if a person has suicidal thoughts in the context of a life stressor, or even without any obvious stressors, the person should seek professional help," said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, president of the Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation in New York City.

The study was published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Read more:

Five telltale signs of depression
If your friend or child is suicidal
Youngsters at high risk of suicide

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Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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