Combating the Suicide Epidemic Among Our Youth

Combating the Suicide Epidemic Among Our Youth


By Dr. Dave A. Opalewski


Suicide is officially recognized as the number 3 cause of death among U.S. adolescents.  Most researchers and mental health treatment specialists claim it could be actually the number 2 cause of death among U.S. adolescents, especially when considering the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics has reported “since 1994, a 63% increase in U.S. deaths by suicide for females and 43% increase for males.  Girls aged 10 – 14 had a triple increase since 1999.”

The SAMSA 2014 report lists suicide as the number 1 cause of death for college freshmen and the number 2 cause of death for all college students.”

The American Psychiatric Association reports that “only 1 in 5 adolescents who suffer from clinical depression get treatment.”  In my experience as an at-risk counselor, I found the biggest reason 4 out of 5 adolescents don’t get treatment is stigma rather than the lack of health insurance.

If we are to combat these staggering and scary numbers of suicidal deaths we must realize that depression and other forms of mental illness are medical conditions not character flaws!!  These conditions are treatable and most suicides are preventable.  Proper attitudes on our part will make a positive difference in the lives of those suffering from these conditions.

The people who die by suicide are not the only victims.  Experts tell us that for every suicide 6 people’s lives are traumatically affected.  Catholic Family Services and Lutheran Family Services give us the same statistic; “After the suicide of a child, 80% of those parents who are married will be divorced within two years.”  The “I could have should have would have” syndrome is prevalent in the lives of family members and friends.

The one question I get when working a suicide aftermath or conducting a prevention workshop is “What is wrong with today’s kids?”  This question is very frustrating to me as it seems to me the people asking these questions are putting the blame for the suicide epidemic on our youth.  The question we should be asking is “why did this 13- year- old girl feel that she couldn’t come to one of us for help?”  As the adults in our society, we need to be introspective, open, approachable and honest with ourselves as well as learning all we can about suicide prevention.

I strongly feel that ALL educators, youth pastors and youth caretakers need training in the areas of suicide prevention, suicide crisis intervention, and postvention procedures.  We also have to educate parents and include our youth on local suicide prevention initiatives.  I have helped communities build prevention initiatives and the youth were very valuable contributors in the areas of enlightenment for adults and effective prevention strategies.

We must believe that together we can gain positive ground against the “fastest growing killer” of our Country’s most precious resource; our youth.


– Center for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2016
– SAMSA – A Treatment Improvement Protocol, 2014
– American Psychiatric Association, 2011
– Catholic and Lutheran Family Services


Click here for more information about Dr. Dave A. Opalewski and to see the books he has written about suicide.