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Pediatricians Urged To Screen Teens For Suicidal Thoughts And Behaviors

First Posted: Jun 28, 2016 05:21 AM EDT

After news about suicide climbing up to the second-leading cause of death among adolescents was released, a group of physicians is persuading pediatricians to screen their patients for presence of suicidal thought and risk factors.

In a report by USA Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report Monday saying that family doctors should examine teens for suicide risks. The report came after the news broke about suicide now known as the second-leading cause of teen death. The academy named some of the most common risk factors that will help pediatricians identify and help at-risk teens aging 15 to 19 years-old.

The group identified some of the most common risk factors doctors should be aware of which include, family history of suicide, physical or sexual abuse, mood disorders, alcohol and drug use, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identification. Another important risk factor added to the list is bullying. 

"Bullying has always been a major issue for adolescents, but there is now greater recognition of the connection between bullying and suicide," the report's lead author, Dr. Benjamin Shain, a child psychiatrist with North Shore University Health System, said in a statement.

The advancement of technology and social media has made things even more difficult for teens. "The internet is a key influence, as well. Cyberbullying, for example, is as serious a problem as face-to-face bullying," he said. 

Aappublications.org reported that females are more at risk regardless of frequency of bullying, while males are at higher risk only with frequent bullying. Suicidal thoughts and behavior were found to be greater in those bullied, depending on age, gender, race/ethnicity and the presence of symptoms of depression. However, suicidal thoughts and behavior are higher in victims as well as bullies and are highest in those who have been both victims and bullies.

According to the report, internet use of more than five hours a day is connected to higher levels of depression and suicidal thoughts in teens. But, the authors also acknowledge the fact that the internet can be an important source of support for teens as well.

Another factor Shain said could contribute to the increase in suicide rates is the stresses due to the reluctance to take antidepressant medication. In 2004, the FDA required "black box warning" labels on antidepressants to warn physicians of the increased risks of suicidal thoughts and behavior among those taking the medication. Thus, fewer antidepressants were prescribed.

AAP also stressed the importance of discussing the warning to the parents or care givers when prescribing antidepressants. This should also be properly documented. Furthermore, depression is considered a significant suicide risk factor, so careful monitoring of emotional and behavioral status of the adolescent is important, especially when starting or changing treatment.

"Careful monitoring is important in order to identify youth who may have the emergence of suicidal thoughts, in order to provide the proper level of care to insure safety," Dr. Victor Fornari, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, and Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, told CBS News.

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