The pandemic has demonstrated the perilous state of youths’ mental health and lack of services to support children and adolescents.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths 10-24 years old, and pediatricians can help prevent it.
The new Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention provides a roadmap for pediatric health clinicians. It was developed by the AAP in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and in collaboration with experts from the National Institute of Mental Health.
The blueprint was a product of a 2021 summit that brought together experts from medical, behavioral health and public health organizations, along with federal agencies involved with suicide prevention, to identify and discuss suicide-prevention strategies. It provides practical actions and suggestions for clinical and community organizations to prevent youth suicide. It reflects the first major interdisciplinary effort to highlight suicide risk-reducing strategies for use in pediatric care and youth community settings.
Pediatricians play an essential role in the emotional and mental health development of children and adolescents due to the strong and long-lasting relationships they have with patients and families.
Over 90% of pediatricians have had a patient disclose suicidal ideation, according to a 2019 AAP survey. Almost one in five high school students had serious thoughts about suicide in 2019 per the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, with the number of youths who are experiencing these thoughts likely greater given recent events.
Preventing suicide may seem daunting in a busy pediatric clinic; however, three key strategies can be incorporated into clinical practice:
- universal screening for suicide risk in youths 12 years and older with a validated evidenced-based screening tool;
- use of a brief suicide safety assessment for those who screen positive on suicide risk screening; and
- identification of next steps based on the patient’s level of suicide risk. The blueprint provides information on safety planning, lethal means counseling and identification of community mental and behavioral health resources for clinics that are not part of a collaborative care model.
Pediatricians also can engage their communities and schools to prevent suicide. They can build community partnerships with organizations and individuals who will support and champion the importance of youths’ mental health and suicide prevention. It is important to identify key partners, understand the landscape of suicide and suicide risk in the community and agree on shared goals and measures of success.
Advocacy and policy priorities
The blueprint also identifies the following advocacy and policy priorities:
- Expand research into the disparities in youth suicide prevention through funding and support.
- Improve support, payment and insurance coverage for mental and behavioral health and suicide prevention services, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and its centers.
- Increase access to affordable and effective youth mental health care through expanding and diversifying the mental and behavioral health workforce.
- Address disparities in suicide risk and rate through education, policies and development of suicide prevention programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
- Develop and support resources and programs that foster and strengthen healthy mental health development.
Dr. Lau is a lead author of the blueprint and a member of the AAP Section on Adolescent Health Executive Committee.
- Suicide prevention resources from the AAP
- Suicide prevention resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
- Crisis Text Line: text “talk” to 741 741