NEWS

Suicide rate declining, but many teens still consider killing themselves

John Hilliard

The numbers of teens facing feelings of loneliness and despair in Massachusetts are declining, but a large portion still seriously consider killing themselves, according to experts and a state high school survey.

``You take every request (for help) very seriously,'' said Bob Berardino, Marlborough High School's guidance department coordinator. ``You don't blow it off.''

According to the state Department of Education's Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2005, suicide among high schoolers fell significantly over the preceding decade. But overall, more than one-eighth of the state's high students seriously considered killing themselves that year, according to the report.

Across the U.S., there is one suicide for every 100 to 200 attempts among young adults ages 15 to 24 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

At Marlborough High, officials push for better communication between counselors and students. Counselors also rely on teachers and staff to report potential problems with kids.

``We really try to keep a pretty good pulse on kids,'' said Berardino.

Students are called on to alert staff about friends who could be thinking about suicide, as well.

Adolescence ``is a period of time for kids (that) is very stressful,'' he said.

Health classes in both Marlborough and Milford include covering mental health and suicide.

Albert Mercado, Milford's guidance and career coordinator, said counselors work closely with parents to let them know if a child is contemplating suicide or showing signs of depression.

``The guidance counselors make sure (students are) aware of the (services) they're eligible for,'' said Mercado.

According to DOE state report, some groups of students - including those in special education, users of drugs or alcohol, plus kids who are homeless or experience violence - were more likely than their peers to report a suicide attempt.

The 2005 survey, the most recent available, polled more than 3,500 students in grades 9 through 12.

In 2005, more than 6 percent of students reported an attempt at suicide - a lower number than the 10.4 percent of kids who reported a similar act in 1995.

In 2005, about 12 percent of kids reported making a suicide plan and about 13 percent of students polled reported seriously considering suicide in the past year.

Girls were more likely than boys to intentionally hurt themselves and seriously consider suicide. Attempted suicide rates for girls were slightly higher than those for boys in 2005, according to the report.

But students with emotional connections to a family member - one they were comfortable talking to - were less likely to attempt suicide, researchers learned.

``Involvement is the key,'' said Betsy Reid, vice president of residential and day services at Wayside Youth and Family Services in Framingham.

``Our experience is the better connected you are to a community - that often is a deterrent'' to feelings of loneliness, said Reid.

But some kids who participate in sports or tough educational programs can face overwhelming pressure and are driven to suicide after feeling like they don't measure up to their peers, she said. At Wayside, some of the teens the group helps face a higher rate of suicide, and noted the ages of when kids consider killing themselves is getting slightly younger than in the past, she said.

For teens with emotional troubles, school can be the best place to get help.

``The best place for quick action is to go straight to school personnel,'' she said.

John Hilliard can be reached at 508-626-4449 or jhilliar@cnc.com.

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