That November morning started like any other. I was making pancakes in the kitchen while my 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son set the table. Their older brother Eric, 13, soon joined us, prompted by the delicious smell of bacon wafting through the air. As I doled out pancakes, I noticed a stack of books on the counter.
Suicide attempts among teenagers are on the rise, and too often we hear heartbreaking stories in the news of children and teens who attempt or die by suicide. It’s easy to think that these are isolated incidents but suicide attempts among children and adolescents are actually more common than you might think. Suicide is actually the second leading cause of death for individuals 10 to 24, according to The Jason Foundation’s Parent Resource Program, with an average of 3,041 adolescents in grades 9-12 attempting suicide each day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16% of high school students reported considering attempting suicide in the last year. Thirteen percent reported making a suicide plan and 8% said they tried to carry out the plan.
Turning 18 is a significant milestone for children and parents alike. It’s a rite of passage that children look forward to, as they think "Finally, I can make decisions on my own." On the other hand, parents typically feel some sort of apprehension about their child entering the perils of the adult world. “Where did the time go,” they wonder, and “Will they be okay on their own?” That apprehension is likely intensified for parents of children who have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
With the recent heart-wrenching images of migrant children in the news, there is an increased awareness of the unique mental health needs of migrant and refugee children. Since 1980, there have been about 3 million refugees who have resettled in the US and 35-40% of them were children, according to the organization Bridging Refugee Youth & Child Services. Being exposed to a range of physical and psychological stressors places these refugee children at higher risk for physical and mental health issues requiring treatment. Sadly, research cited by the National Institutes of Health has found that refugees are less likely to seek mental health treatment. This could be due to a lack of understanding of mental illness and treatment options in general, and the fact that it is often more difficult for refugee children to access the mental health services they need.
Think about the last time you were hungry. Maybe you were busy at work and lost track of time or you were running errands and put off eating until you got back home. Whatever the reason was, it probably left you feeling irritable and cranky until you were able to eat. Often when we’re hungry, all we can think about it food.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen what it like is to be a concerned parent of a child with a mental illness diagnosis. I’ve heard their stories as they sit in my office and tearfully tell me about sleepless nights filled with worry, the stress of going from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment seeking answers, and the struggle of getting their child to comply with treatment.