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Protecting Youth from the Impact of Substance Use on Suicide


We hear a lot about mental health issues and suicide risk among our youth. We hear less about the increased risk of suicide associated with alcohol and drug use in stressed and depressed young psyches.

It is distressing and significant that clinical studies show a consistent link and shared risk factors between youth at risk for suicide and substance abuse, which is the second leading cause of suicide after depression and other disorders of the disease. mood, according to Addiction and Mental Health Services. Administration.

By reducing inhibitions, increasing impulsivity and providing a lethal method – whether intentional or accidental – we face a threat to the public health of our young people, made worse by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Increased mental health issues, effects on substance use and addiction have emerged, and some will persist after the pandemic. We have all been tremendously stressed.

However, these concerns do not stem from the pandemic. They only got worse. For example, suicide was already the third leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds in Illinois and the second leading cause nationally, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Another alarming example is the self-reported rate of depression among teens in DuPage County – before COVID – at double the national average, according to data collected by the 2020 Illinois Youth Survey administered in schools in the United States. ‘Illinois. IYS data also showed that 16 percent of Grade 10 students and 13 percent of Grade 12 students seriously considered a suicide attempt in the past 12 months.

Unfortunately, adolescence can be a perfect storm. Just as young people and their brains grow and develop, they may also experiment with or actively use psychotropic substances. Additionally, this is a time in life when the potential for suicidal tendencies – thoughts, actions, attempts, and accomplishments – may emerge for some.

It is more important than ever to protect and help the young people around us who may not know how to express their concerns, are afraid or ashamed, or do not want to overwhelm us. The more aware and alert we are of their signs of struggle and the earlier we intervene, the better their chances of leading a healthy, happy, and long life.

As a member of the DuPage County Prevention Leadership Team (www.dupageplt.org), I believe and have witnessed how public health initiatives like the Prevention Leadership Team proactively serve the well-being of our communities and its youth.

An extension of the DuPage County Department of Health, the Prevention Leadership Team is a coalition of engaged community leaders working across multiple sectors (healthcare, education, government, law enforcement, media, civic organizations serving youth) to prevent substance use and increase mental health. well-being among DuPage County youth, 18 and under.

The crisis text line (REACH text to 741 741) is just one example of how the prevention leadership team works with nonprofit partners to sponsor a 24/7 confidential service / 7 to people in crisis. Learn more about www.dupageplt.org/159/Crisis-Text-Line.

Individually and collectively, we need to help young people learn to navigate life and its challenges without relying socially on drugs and alcohol and to self-medicate, which only worsens and complicates the symptoms. and existing mental illness conditions.

Most importantly, check in with those closest to us on a regular basis and start an ongoing conversation about their mental health and well-being. Ask directly if you are concerned that they are considering suicide. While you may feel uncomfortable at first and some things may be hard to hear, you can never go wrong in expressing your care, concern, and desire to protect them. (See the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s RealConvo guides at www.afsp.org for helpful tips.)

Let them know, “It’s okay to disagree. »Listen to understand without being judgmental, sympathize with their pain, help them where you can, and bring in a healthcare professional when needed. When you are concerned for their immediate safety from suicide or overdose, call 911 or go directly to the nearest emergency room.

Practice proactive prevention by removing easy access at home to potential weapons and substances: alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs, safely disposing of those no longer needed through an Rx Drop Box program at www.hopedupage.org/161/RxBOX. Help them plan for their safety in a crisis using smartphone apps such as “Safety Plan” on Apple and Google Play and “Beyond Now” on Google Play, or find templates online .

This is how we prevent tragedies and prepare for a better future.

• Sarah Breithaupt, MSEd, LCPC, is Director of Youth and Family Services for the Township of Lisle and a member of the DuPage County Prevention Leadership Team.