Psychiatrist Offers Reasons for Hope Despite Rise in Youth Suicide

Ninety percent of individuals who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide at a later date, according to Dr. Shayla Sullivant. Photo Credit: Sasin Tipchai/Pixabay

Kevin Patrick Allen
Public News Service     

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is hope beyond the headlines, according to a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics, even as research shows children and teens are taking their lives by suicide in greater numbers.

Dr. Shayla Sullivant said stigma and easy access to guns are problems that can be remedied in individual homes. She pointed to famous figures who experienced depression and suicidal ideology, ranging from Abraham Lincoln to actress Halle Berry and author J.K. Rowling.

“Think of all these people and the contributions they have made to our society,” she said. “There is reason for us to hope and there is reason for us to also think about how not having access to a firearm when these people were in the depths of despair is partly why they contributed what they did.”

Sullivant said she often counsels parents of her clients to either remove guns from their homes or keep them locked in a safe. She said it’s a misconception that youths always plan suicide well in advance of taking their lives. Often, she noted, teens who attempted suicide tell her they made their decision just 10 minutes prior to the act. If children don’t have a highly lethal means to take their lives during this impulsive period, Sullivant said, their lives often can be saved.

It’s simply not true, Sullivant said, that victims of suicide will always find a way to complete the act if the most lethal option isn’t available. She pointed to the nation of Sri Lanka, which had the highest rate of suicide in the world when deadly pesticides were readily available. Once restrictions were put on the most lethal pesticides and safe storage was prioritized, the suicide rate plummeted. She also recalled that in the United States in the 1970s, many people didn’t wear seat belts “and how no one wanted to do it – and how now we don’t even blink, we just get in the car and do it.”

Automobile fatalities were skyrocketing in the ’70s, but the number of deaths per capita in auto crashes has dropped by more than 35 percent since that time. Sullivant said suicide rates among youths also can be dramatically curtailed by reducing stigma, keeping firearms stored or by family members making the decision to remove guns from the homes of struggling youths.