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Parents Do Not Realize Teens Have Suicidal Ideation and Thoughts of Death

1/14/2019

Half of parents surveyed were unaware of their teenagers’ thoughts of killing themselves, and more than 75 percent were unaware of their teens’ recurrent thoughts of death, according to a study published in the February 2019 issue of Pediatrics. In the study, “Parent-Adolescent Agreement about Adolescents’ Suicidal Thoughts” (published online Jan. 14), researchers interviewed 5,137 adolescents ages 11-17 years old and their parents, who were recruited through a community-based pediatric health network in Philadelphia. The teens were asked about lifetime suicidal ideation: “Have you ever thought about killing yourself?” and also about thoughts of death, phrased as, “Have you ever thought a lot about death or dying?” Recurrent thoughts of death or dying, while not necessarily suicidal ideation, are associated with elevated distress and listed as a symptom of major depressive disorder. Parents responded to the same questions about their adolescents’ lifetime suicidal thoughts and thoughts about death. Researchers found a high lack of parental awareness of youth suicidal ideation or thoughts of death, and also a significant number of teens who denied suicidal thoughts reported by parents. The authors suggest that, because many teens at risk of suicide may go undetected, that pediatricians adopt a multi-informant approach to suicide screening. Suicide is the second leading cause of adolescent death.

Editor’s note: The solicited commentary, “Parent-Adolescent Agreement about Adolescent’s Suicidal Thoughts – a Divergence,” will be published in the same issue of Pediatrics.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds