Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, and since 2007, the rate of suicide deaths among children ages 10 and 14 has nearly doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Multiple factors including social challenges, academic or economic stress, and a history of mental health problems can contribute to having suicidal thoughts or urges to self-harm,” said Kyle Johnson, M.D., a professor in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the OHSU School of Medicine and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “However, suicide is preventable.”
“An effective way to limit the risk of suicide in the home is to adopt a secure lockbox for medications and firearms, two of the leading mechanisms of suicide in the U.S.,” said Johnson, who directs the child and adolescent psychiatry consultation-liaison service at OHSU. “Childproof caps and high shelving simply aren’t enough.”
Thanks to a local donor, as well as a partnership with the Tom Sargent Safety Center, the OHSU Doernbecher child and adolescent psychiatry consultation-liaison team is now able to provide at-risk youth and their families high-quality lockboxes, free of charge, at the time of a crisis.
Lockboxes are also available for purchase, at discounted rates, at the Tom Sargent Safety Center located in the main lobby of the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
Since this program began in the Spring of 2018, dozens of lockboxes have been dispensed through OHSU. More recently, the program expanded to include patients treated at the adolescent psychiatry inpatient unit at the Unity Behavioral Health Center.
“The responsibility of preventing self-harm and suicide does not rest solely with the individual, but with their family, friends, and the community as well. Providing medication lockboxes to at-risk youth is one means of reducing suicide attempts and death by suicide,” Johnson said. “We hope to educate the public, school staff, and the healthcare community about securing lethal means when a person is at risk for suicide.”
Identifying and responding to suicide risk
Young people contemplating suicide often demonstrate warning signs such as reckless behavior, talking about wanting to die or of being a burden, or researching means for committing suicide, Johnson said. Approximately 90 percent of youths who die by suicide each year suffer with substance use or a psychiatric disorder such as clinical depression. Additional risk factors may include previous self-harm or suicide attempts, real or perceived loss, or a history of suicide among family or peers.
Parents, friends or teachers interacting with someone demonstrating these risk factors should ask the individual if he or she is contemplating suicide and listen intently to the response. If the suicide risk is real, seeking professional help from a crisis hotline, the patient’s primary care physician, a local hospital emergency department, or a therapist or other mental health specialist is crucial to the person’s safety. In addition, preventing access to dangerous, potentially deadly means such as medication and firearms will also save lives.