Why isn’t everyone more upset?
A disease is killing our children and it’s more deadly than cancer and leukemia! Did you know it was mental illness?
Out of curiosity, I did some research on child mortality rates from various causes because I wanted to know how death from mental illnesses compared with other fatal illnesses of childhood and adolescence. The results were astonishing, unexpected, and disturbing.
* The starting point for the mortality rates of medical illnesses was the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdcp.gov in Atlanta; the starting point for the mental illnesses was the website for the National Institute for Mental Health, www.nimh.gov.
** The suicide data was from those with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and psychotic disorders-unspecified. (Suicide from other mental health causes, such as borderline personality disorder and co-morbid substance abuse is also prevalent, but I could not find data for children to young adult age ranges.)
- It’s often normal for children and young people to think about suicide, but just in their imagination. They might consider it during some painful time in their lives, but there are no plans made or steps taken. When the difficult times are over, they don’t think about it any more.
- Young people with early onset mental illness can’t endure much stress; thoughts of suicide recur over time, starting as early as age 6 or 7. These children are vulnerable to repeated intrusive suicidal thoughts because they live with a combination biological, psychological, and social/relationship causes (called “biopsychosocial”). More about this is explained here: “Use the “S” Word: Talk with your Child about Suicide.”
- There are ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ suicides in young people.
- The ‘fast’ ones are 1) direct self-harm that has been planned, or 2) spur-of-the-moment suicide due to an extreme emotional reaction to a single intolerable event (examples: a boyfriend/girlfriend or best friend dies; a teen has a serious fight with a parent and (without planning) wants to ‘get back’).
- The ‘slow’ suicides result from a persistent pattern of harmful behaviors that eventually lead to death. Young people struggling with anorexia can die by heart failure or other causes due to their weakened body. Others abuse substances and/or participate in extremely risky activities that expose them to multiple lethal situations: overdose, criminal environments, disease.
The chart above screams out for a changes in attitude, policy, and investment in children’s mental health treatment and suicide prevention. I had no idea that death rates from mental illness could be 3 to 4 times higher than most cancers and leukemia. It is imperative that young people with mental health issues receive as aggressive and sensitive treatment as is expected and demanded of medical systems that treat cancer in children.
Parents: talk about this. Talk to your child; share it on social media; and talk to mental health organizations about what you can do.
The data on mortality rates for mental illnesses was difficult to find, and it required searches in many different medical journals and websites. I chose to use the data on cancer, leukemia, and diabetes because the mortality rates from these are high and because deaths from all other causes were insignificant by comparison (motor vehicle accidents are the one exception). In this graph, the death rates for cancer and leukemia are averages for the different forms of each, and in the medical journals they were presented together.
I welcome additions or corrections of this data from any other sources, and encourage readers to investigate this for themselves.