An MU researcher has isolated the preventative factors of the third-leading killer of teens: suicide.
Assistant professor of health sciences Lindsay Taliaferro collected data from Minnesota ninth and 12th grade students. The students answered comprehensive surveys about a variety of health behaviors, potential risks and protective factors, Taliaferro said.
Of the 60,000 students who participated in the survey, 4,000 admitted to succumbing to self-injury, according to an MU news release. Half of those who admitted to harming themselves had attempted suicide.
The surveys identified risk factors, including access to firearms, previous attempts at suicide, depression, the occurrence of stressful life events and family histories, Taliaferro said.
Through her research, Taliaferro said she has also uncovered more information about the warning signs involved with suicide.
“When we are talking about warning signs, we are really looking at behavior changes in a young person that can wave those red flags and indicate something is going on,” Taliaferro said.
These red flags include substance abuse, anxiety, anger, withdrawal and recklessness, according to a Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management article written by Taliaferro in June.
Neglecting one’s appearance, giving away possessions, having abnormal sleep patterns and changing moods suddenly are also possible signs of pre-suicidal behavior, according to the article.
Hopelessness is an important factor, Taliaferro said.
“Of the teens who engaged in non-suicidal self injury, hopelessness was a prominent factor that differentiated those who attempted suicide from those who did not have a history of suicide attempts,” Taliaferro said.
In addition to identifying specific warning signs and risk factors, Taliaferro’s research listed parent-connectedness as one of the most effective preventative factors of suicide.
“Parents can help young people to develop helpful coping strategies and be a source of support for their children,” Taliaferro said.
In fact, parent-connectedness is actually a stronger protective factor than closeness with peers, Taliaferro said. Other preventative factors include positive self-worth, impulse control, access to mental health care resources and social integration.
People must overcome the stigma and the shame associated with suicide and start talking about it, Taliaferro said.
“Asking youth about suicidal thoughts does not create distress or increase risk,” Taliaferro said. “Instead, discussing suicidal thoughts relieves anxiety and may increase hope. Thus, if someone is concerned a young person may be considering suicide, they should talk to the person about how he (or) she is feeling.”
For those who self-injure, recovery begins with seeking out mental health care professionals who can help find alternative ways to deal with overwhelmingly negative emotions, Taliaferro said.
“Young people have very complicated lives,” Taliaferro said. “They have all these pressures but they do not necessarily have the coping mechanisms that develop with age to appropriately deal with them.”