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Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline

Call 24/7: 1-208-398-4357

Text M-F, 2-11 p.m.: 1-208-398-4357

Our kids are killing themselves.

That’s not a dramatic overstatement in the aftermath of two more Coeur d’Alene students taking their lives in recent weeks, but a verifiable, statistically valid fact.

The suicide rate among U.S. teenage girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The rate increased 30 percent for boys.

The statistics are nothing short of startling. Nationally, nine of 100 high school students report having attempted to take their own life in the past year. Three out of 100 required medical treatment.

Make no mistake, this is a mental health issue, and a public health crisis. Experts say nine out of 10 youths who take their own lives have a mental health condition, and four out of five give clear warning signs before killing themselves.

What can be done about this? More to the point, what can each of us do?

Well, the obvious answer is to get these kids professional help when warning signs appear. But how will you know?

Ask.

That’s oversimplifying, but according to Kelly Posner, it’s still extremely effective.

Posner is a clinical professor in the department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University. She’s also founder and director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project.

Posner came up with a brief suicide screening she calls the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. You want to first determine if the child is having suicidal thoughts, so the questions should go like this:

“Have you had any thoughts of killing yourself?”

If so, “Have you been thinking about how you might do this?”

“Have you had these thoughts and some intention of acting on them?”

The No. 1 risk factor for suicide, she says, is a history of suicide attempts. To determine the child’s level of risk, ask: “Have you taken any steps toward making a suicide attempt or preparing to kill yourself, such as collecting pills, getting a gun, giving valuables away, or writing a suicide note?”

Posner is seeing positive results from this approach, for children and adults of all ages. By determining actual risk, help can be a phone call away.

The bigger issue of why our kids are killing themselves in increasing numbers — disintegration of nuclear families, pressures in a social media-driven world, lack of healthy and wholesome activities, and so on — likely has more than one easy answer. Posner believes screening for suicide potential should be as medically routine as testing blood pressure.

For today, at least, just asking the right questions may very well assure there’s a tomorrow.

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