Why Teen Mental Health, Not Bullying, Must Be Suicide Focus

Posted by on September 21, 2010

The headline, “5 teen suicides put focus on bullying issue in Mentor,” should have read, “5 teen suicides put focus on youth mental health issues.”

This Monday Plain Dealer article in Cleveland, Ohio, is the latest in a number of national news stories linking bullying with incidents of teen suicide.  I first addressed this last week in Bullycide: Death by Bullying or Deeper Mental Health Issues?

In the Plain Dealer story, expert Madelyn Gould, a professor of clinical epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University, noted that more than 90 percent of suicides stem from underlying psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse.  She also pointed out that suicide is never caused by one thing.

Gould also accurately said kids’ coping skills and support for dealing with bullying and other stressors varies. School shootings have revealed undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health issues as underlying contributors to violence, as I noted in last week’s post.

Special interest advocates jump on these news stories to advance their social and political agendas.  Twitter is on fire redistributing these stories.  And the emotions are pouring from blogs, Twitter, and elsewhere.

As a parent and as a school safety professional for over 25-years, I don’t want to see any parent lose their child.  Nor do I have any desire to minimize the urgency, seriousness, or need to address teen suicide.

But the conversation clearly must shift to one on teen mental health needs.  At best, bullying is one factor in some incidences which might contribute to — but not solely cause — a teen suicide.  Until we dig a little deeper, and in some cases a lot deeper, we are never going to address the much more complex root problem of undiagnosed, untreated, inadequately treated, and/or under-funded treatment of teen mental health issues.

Ken Trump

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