Many Teens’ Suicidal Thoughts Go Undetected by Parents

by Elizabeth Hlavinka

But half of teens denied having suicidal thoughts.

Parents were frequently unaware when their adolescent children had suicidal or morbid thoughts, but when they did believe their children thought about killing themselves, children often denied it, according to a study involving a large pediatric healthcare network.

The survey of more than 5,000 teen-parent pairs identified 413 adolescents who reported having thoughts of suicide, and for about half of those, the parents said they didn’t know about it, reported Jason Jones, Ph.D., of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and colleagues.

About twice as many teens (786) said they had recurrent thoughts of death or dying, and three-quarters of their parents said they were unaware.

Conversely, when parents said they believed their children had thoughts of suicide, about half of children said they didn’t, and two-thirds of those whose parents thought they were having thoughts of death denied it, Jones and colleagues wrote in Pediatrics.

“Given the high prevalence of parental unawareness and adolescent denial of suicidal thoughts found in this study, it is possible that a large number of adolescents with suicide risk may not be detected by brief screens at routine check-ups,” the authors stated.

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