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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford psychiatrist comments on federal report about Santa Clara County youth suicides

Earlier this month, the federal government released a report (.pdf) on youth suicides in California's Santa Clara County. The report, which was prepared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the request of local community members, used several types of epidemiological data to characterize suicidal behaviors among the county's young people ages 10 to 24 between 2003 and 2015. It also assessed the community response.

I spoke with Stanford child and adolescent psychiatrist Steven Adelsheim, MD, to get his thoughts on the report's messages. One important take-away, Adelsheim said, is that two-thirds of youth suicides occurred among young people aged 20 to 24, and three-quarters were in males:

When you look broadly at the entire county and note the rate of suicides in males aged 20 to 24, it raises important questions about how young people who are no longer high school age can access mental health services. I think we need to recognize their crises and build better access to early mental health care across the board. We also need to start asking why these young men are less likely to access mental health care and build programs for them to easily get it.

The finding will be used to help shape programs now being developed by several community groups -- including Stanford -- to provide mental-health services for local young people, Adelsheim added:

We've been developing a local version of the headspace program, based on a successful Australian program of the same name, for providing outpatient counseling and other early-intervention services to youth...

The headspace model is designed to help youth aged 12 to 25, so it's a potential access point for young people aged 20 to 24 who might not otherwise get mental health care. Our marketing for headspace will include messages saying that this is a place to go for help recovering from breakups and other difficult life events, rather than overtly branding it as a mental health clinic. We hope this approach will help us draw in a larger swath of young people.

Our conversation also addressed problems with media portrayals of suicide, the urban-rural divide in California youth suicide rates and more about the successful collaborations Stanford has forged with many community partners to address mental health concerns for local young people.

Individuals in crisis can receive help from the Santa Clara County Suicide & Crisis Hotline at (855) 278-4204. Help is also available from anywhere in the United States via Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. All three services are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Previously: Suicide, rape and other crises stump Siri and her conversational agent peers, Advice and guidance on teen suicide and Mental-health resources for Bay Area teenagers increasing in 2017
Photo by Ben Seidelman

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