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Adolescent Medicine Specialist to Discuss How to Help Teens at Risk for Suicide :

September 15, 2017

Editor's note: The 2017 AAP National Conference & Exhibition will take place from Sept. 16-19 in Chicago.

Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System:

  • An estimated 2 million U.S. teens attempt suicide annually, and 15 die per day.
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds.
  • Nearly 18% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in 2015.

“Due to the prevalence of suicide, I would anticipate most pediatricians would lose at least one patient to suicide in their career,” said Paula Cody, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Section on Adolescent Health. “They probably encounter a patient with suicidal ideation more frequently than they realize.”

Dr. Cody will discuss how pediatricians can screen for suicidality and work with families and their communities during a session titled “Suicide: Helping Teens at Risk” from 2:00-2:45 pm Monday (F3099) in McCormick Place West, W190 A, and again from 8:30-9:15 am Tuesday (F4011) in Room W181 B. She also will offer strategies to prevent suicide and clusters/contagion.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youths are among those at increased risk for suicide. Dr. Cody will use the LGBTQ community to explain roles of different team members, including health care providers, schools and community organizations.

She recommends pediatricians identify risk factors and screen for suicidal ideation as part of a complete social history at each acute and well-child visit.

“Eighty percent of teens attempting suicide had contact with a health care provider in the past three months,” said Dr. Cody, assistant professor of pediatrics, section chief and medical director of adolescent medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

During the session, she will outline steps pediatricians can take if they identify a patient who is at risk for suicide.

Outside the clinic, pediatricians can advocate for access to mental health care, train future health care providers to screen patients for suicidal risk and make sure suicide is not sensationalized in the media.

“Media has played a role in increasing awareness about suicide, but media portrayal may glamorize suicide, perpetrate myths, etc.,” Dr. Cody said.

She plans to discuss some of the concerns that have been raised about the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Based on a 2007 young adult novel, the series revolves around a girl who committed suicide. Before her death, she records cassette tapes to explain why she decided to take her own life.

“One of the concerns is that it (the series) glamorizes suicide as a way to ‘get back’ at those who wronged you and make them see all that they did wrong,” Dr. Cody said. “For concrete thinking teenagers, this may make suicide seem like a good way to ‘teach someone a lesson’ as a sort of revenge-fantasy without fully thinking about the finality of the act.”

However, many parents of her patients have found the series to be a good starting point for having conversations with their teens about risk-taking behaviors, she added.

“I have encouraged parents and teens to watch it together so that they can discuss these topics.”

Follow Dr. Cody on Twitter @TeenDocCody.

For more coverage of the AAP National Conference & Exhibition visit http://bit.ly/2vm1VUU and follow AAPNews on Twitter and Facebook.

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