The outlook is bleak. Thousands of teenagers are taking their own lives. Indeed, the figures, far from improving, are getting worse. Consequently, suicidal behavior in adolescents has become an extremely serious problem. For this reason, increasing amounts of money has been allocated to the issue in an attempt to reverse the trend.
As a matter of fact, adolescent suicide has become an epidemic. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the main causes of death during adolescence. This is a stage marked by changes at the biological, social, and psychological levels (Fonseca-Pedrero et al., 2022).
“The prevention of suicidal behavior in minors continues to be a pending issue.”
Suicidal behavior in adolescents: a serious epidemic
The epidemic can be prevented. Indeed, we can take steps to prevent this desperate behavior. This is the central message of our article. There are effective interventions available. Research suggests that, as well as being effective at a human level, the right investment in thse interventions is also profitable at a social level.
Although we’re a long way from being able to describe suicidal behavior and all of its potential triggers, we have much more knowledge than we did a few years ago. For instance, we now know that people who commit suicide usually go through certain common phases. First, they think about the issue. Next, they communicate it (via threats or verbal and non-verbal expressions), plan it, and ultimately carry it out (Fonseca- Pedrero et al., 2020).
“Suicidal behavior is part of human diversity. It is a complex, polyhedral, multidimensional and multicausal phenomenon”.
Evaluation: an important starting point
Rigorous evaluation should be the short but accurate prelude to any effective intervention. To help professionals in this mission, there are different questionnaires. However, the best tool is the interview with the minor, which must be empathetic and warm. In a complementary way, the SENTIA self-report method can be used. It contains questions such as (Díez et al., 2021):
- Are you planning to take your own life?
- Have you ever had the idea of taking your own life?
- Have you told someone that you want to commit suicide?
These questions on the SENTIA scale are clear and direct. This is because we know that, when talking about suicide, it’s better to do it decisively and bluntly, rather than with vague and confusing questions. For example, “Have you ever thought about quitting?”. Therefore, the SENTIA scale is a good tool for evaluating this complex problem (Díez et al., 2021).
“This scale makes it possible to assess suicidal behavior (ideation, planning, intention, communication, and behavior) in adolescence.”
Interventions for preventing suicidal behavior in adolescents
The World Health Organization, under the title Live Life has promoted a series of recommendations for preventing suicide. They’re empirically based strategies (supported by scientific evidence) (Fonseca-Pedrero et al., 2022):
- Limit access to the means of suicide. For example, drugs.
- Interact with the media for the responsible reporting of suicide.
- Foster socio-emotional skills in adolescents.
- Early identify, assess, manage, and follow up anyone who’s affected by suicidal behaviors.
How to prevent suicide in adolescents
The answer to this question is complex, since there are a considerable number of interventions whose objective is the prevention of suicidal behavior in adolescents (Reifels et al., 2022).
In fact, prevention can be carried out in a multitude of contexts. These range from the family, through the school or community, to the individual.
“Educational centers are the ‘natural’ and ideal place to develop and implement actions for the promotion of emotional well-being and the prevention of suicidal behaviour”.
The AIM-SP model: an effective strategy to prevent suicidal behavior in adolescents
Thi AIM-SP model integrates different interventions. It begins with an assessment in which the clinician clearly and explicitly asks the adolescent if they’re experincing suicidal thoughts (either in the present or the past). The objective of the questions is to identify factors and elements that could be considered a risk.
An intervention is subsequently conducted based on the Stanley-Brown Safety Plan (Stanley et al., 2012). Other psychotherapeutic interventions can also be integrated. For example, dialectical-behavioral therapy (Fonseca et al., 2022).
Throughout the process and after its completion, monitoring is carried out for various purposes. For instance, the clinician pays increasing attention to an adolescent in a high-risk situation. They also make attempts to involve family and friends in prevention.
In addition to the AIM-SP Model, there are other intervention modalities. For instance, the Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) program (Carli et al., 2021). Its purpose is to prevent suicide in the adolescent population.
Tpday, the subject of adolescent suicide is in the public arena. Moreover, as a result of these young peoples’ suffering, as well as the death figures, prevention is essential. Therefore, it’s essential that public health institutions adopt plans with the goal of reducing the figures, until they reach zero.
“Suicidal behavior in adolescents is a public health problem both because of its prevalence and the associated personal, family, educational, and socio-health consequences.”
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