Study Recommends Parents Talk To Kids About Suicide

Survey finds those at risk are less likely to try it after being asked about it.

Parents shouldn't be afraid to stick their noses in their children's business if they're worried their kids may be contemplating suicide, according to a study released this week.

Asking a child if they've ever thought about harming themselves doesn't increase the risk of them acting on it, the report found, and may actually help those who suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression.

More than 2,300 students at six suburban high schools in New York took part in a two-part questionnaire, The Associated Press reports. Half of the students received suicide questions on their first survey, and then got suicide questions again days later when they received a second survey. The other half of the students were asked suicide questions only on their second survey.

Overall, about half of the teens said they'd thought about suicide, but those in the group that was asked twice about it had fewer ideas of suicide after the first survey when compared to those in the second group, who were only asked once.

Dr. Madelyn Gould, the author of the study and a researcher at the New York Psychiatric Institute, said the results can finally dispel concerns parents and teachers have had that just bringing up the issue will plant the idea in a teen's mind. "The findings suggest that asking about suicidal behavior may have been beneficial to students with depression symptoms or previous suicide attempts," she told Reuters.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 15 to 24 and the second leading cause of death among college students, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Almost one-third of youths who attempt suicide are frequent users of alcohol or other drugs, and more than 90 percent of young people who die by suicide had at least one psychiatric illness at the time of death. Studies indicate the best way to prevent suicide is through early recognition and proper treatment of mental illnesses, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports.

Depression is usually the leading cause, accounting for up to 95 percent of deaths, while substance abuse, anxiety, rage and desperation increase the risk of suicide attempts, according to the AFSP. Symptoms of depression can include a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable, fatigue, insomnia, a change in appetite and weight, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and a decline in school performance. Fifteen percent of the American population will suffer from clinical depression at some point in their lifetime; 30 percent of them will attempt suicide, and half of them will ultimately succeed, the AFSP reports.

According to a New York Times report last month, administrators at New York University have restricted balcony access to two dormitories in an effort to curb student suicide attempts, which number about five a year. The university also installed Plexiglas panels around Bobst Library's atrium, where two students jumped to their deaths.