Most teens who are thinking of suicide or already attempted suicide have not received appropriate mental health services, according to an analysis led by Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D. of the National Institute of Mental Health.
Around 14 percent of high school students seriously consider suicide each year, 11 percent have a suicide plan, and 6 percent attempt suicide, according to a national survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Other research suggests that less than half of teens who attempt suicide received mental health services during the year before the attempt.
Over 10,000 teens, ages 13 to 18, completed the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), an in-person, nationally representative survey. They answered whether they had any suicidal thoughts (ideation), plans, or actions during the one-year period prior to the survey.
The teens also completed an interview asking about the full range of mental disorders including mood, anxiety, eating and anxiety disorders and whether they had received treatment for emotional or behavioral problems in the past 12 months.
Participants were asked to specify if they received care from a mental health specialist — such as a social worker, psychiatrist or other mental health professional — or from a general service provider, such as a primary care physician.
According to the results, within the past year, 3.6 percent of adolescents had suicidal thoughts, but did not make a specific plan or suicide attempt.
Other findings include 0.6 percent of teens reported having a plan and nearly 2 percent reported having made a suicide attempt within the past year.
Suicidal behavior among youth was not only associated with major depression, but also with a range of other mental health problems including eating, anxiety, substance use and behavior disorders, as well as physical health problems.
Between 50 and 75 percent of those who had suicidal ideation had recent contact with a health provider. However, most only had three or fewer visits, suggesting that treatment tends to end prematurely. In addition, most teens with suicidal ideation did not receive specialized mental health care.
The findings suggest that depression and other mood disorders are not the only pathways to suicide. They also emphasize the importance of including a suicide risk assessment into regular physical and mental health care for teens.
The researchers conclude that even while teens are in treatment, they should continue to be monitored for suicidal ideation and behaviors.
The results are published online in the journal Psychiatric Services.