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Psychology professor shares warning signs in light of nation’s record high suicide rate

Psychology professor shares warning signs in light of nation’s record high suicide rate

September 8, 2023 at 1:49pm

September is Suicide Prevention Month and the recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that more people died by suicide in 2022 than ever before.

The 2022 suicide rate is five percent higher than 2018’s previous record high of 14.2 deaths for every 100,000 people, which is a 10 percent increase over the last two years, according to a statement by the American Association of Suicidology.

Jeremy Pettit, FIU psychology professor and researcher at the Center for Children and Families conducts research on depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviors in childhood and adolescence.

He was alarmed by the recent report and is urging the public to be vigilant for suicide warning signs.

“Suicide is a critical public health problem that everyone in our community should be taking seriously,” said Pettit. “While these numbers are alarming, everyone needs to know that suicide is preventable. I urge for everyone to learn the warning signs and act if they think someone needs help.”

Source: Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC)

Although the age group of 10-24 was the only one that saw a decrease in suicide rates, suicide continues to be one of the leading causes of death for that age group.

“Unfortunately, what the data has shown over recent years is that suicide and suicide attempts continue increasing in preteens,” added Pettit. “Suicide and suicide attempts in children are especially concerning because we lack standardized, age-appropriate ways to assess suicide risk in preteens,” Pettit says.

To help tackle this problem, Pettit and his team are conducting a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to develop, validate, and standardize an age-appropriate tool to assess suicide risk among preteens.

“We hope that this funding will bring us one step closer to developing an effective method to screen preteens at risk for suicide, which will facilitate efforts to intervene as early as possible,” he said.

Suicide warning signs include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Anxiety, agitation, trouble sleeping or sleeping all of the time
  • Expressions of having no reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
  • Feelings of being trapped — like there’s no way out
  • Increased alcohol and/or drug use
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, expressions of wanting or seeking revenge
  • Reckless behavior or more risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Giving away prized possessions

“I think the biggest myth about suicide is that if we talk about it, we will encourage it and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Pettit. “Parents should take all signs of distress and suicidal thoughts seriously. If you suspect your child may be having thoughts of suicide, first ensure your child’s physical safety and then seek help.”

Pettit is a licensed psychologist and is the director of the Child Anxiety and Phobia Program at the Center for Children and Families.  He also recently authored a book intended to help young people overcome suicidal thoughts.

The Center for Children and Families at FIU provides evidence-based treatments — in English and Spanish — for children and adolescents who are experiencing depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. Parents can call 305-348-0477 or email for more information. 

If you or your child is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free)