Pa. pediatrician talks about teen suicide

May 06, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Girls are twice as likely than boys to attempt suicide, but boys are six times more likely to die by their own hand, pediatrician Dr. Michael Colli told a small group of educators and parents on Monday.

"Because boys reach for the gun. Girls reach for the pills," Colli said at the first of three talks in a parent education series. Getting guns out of the house is the most effective way to prevent teen suicides, he said.

Children have cognitive and psychological stages in their development, milestones parents can look for to see if their children are developing normally, or giving off warning signals that professional intervention is needed. The idea behind the series, said Chambersburg Area Senior High School Psychologist Amy Hieber, is that more education about mental health will be useful to parents.

Any suicide is a tragedy, but Colli said the issue has to be put in perspective.


Approximately 1,500 teenagers among 8 million between the ages of 15 and 19 commit suicide each year, Colli said. Those are about the same odds as being selected in Major League Baseball's amateur draft, he said.

The odds for attempting suicide are higher in the next demographic, people ages 19 to 25, and highest among men ages 45 to 54, Hieber said.

Teen suicides increased 300 percent between 1950 and 1990, but from 1990 to 2003, Colli said, the rate decreased 35 percent.

"If you suspect a problem, confront it, don't ignore it," Colli said. Signs of depression include irritability; loss of interest in sports and other activities; failing grades; excessive late night television; and trouble getting ready for school.

About 9 percent of adolescents had a major depressive episode in 2004, but less than half got treatment, something that would be inexcusable if the diagnosis were diabetes or cancer, Colli said.

Raising a stable child requires being an involved parent and a good role model, Colli said.

"If you're not your child's role model, someone else will be," he said.

The next topic, communicating with students, will be led by social worker Mary Boone at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 12, in the district Chambersburg Area School District Administration Building. Mental health will be the topic on May 19, led by Janet Frick, director of the Mental Health Association of Lebanon County.

The district is sponsoring the series with Summit Health and Keystone Health.

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