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Teen Health Checks Should Include Screenings For Suicide Risks: Pediatricians

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Suicide is now the second-leading cause of teenage deaths. A U.S. pediatrician group urges doctors to include suicide risks screenings during routine health checks for youths.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) new report offered guidelines on how to identify the teens at risk of committing suicide. The AAP said that doctors should be aware of the following risk factors:

Histories of sexual or physical abuse, mood disorders, substance abuse and dependence (drugs and alcohol) and family history of suicide. Transgender identification as well as questions about sexual orientation (gay, lesbian and bisexual) are also common risk factors.

Other risk factors include strained relationships with parents, living outside of the family home, not attending school or difficulties in attending classes.

Moreover, experts said that bullying is another important risk factor. According to the lead author Dr. Benjamin Shain, while bullying always been "a major issue for adolescents," in recent years, there is now a stronger establishment in the association between suicide and bullying.

"The internet is a key influence, as well. Cyberbullying, for example, is as serious a problem as face-to-face bullying," said Shain, a child psychiatrist from the North Shore University HealthSystem.

The onset of social media and technology also made things difficult for teenagers and brings with them more problems. For instance, the AAP report found that teenagers who use the internet for more than five hours a day are more likely to experience increased suicidal thoughts and depression.

"There is definitely a higher incidence in kids who think about hurting themselves or even completing a suicide and those who have been bullied," said pediatrician Dr. Cora Breuner from Seattle Children's Hospital.

The internet can be a double-edged sword. The AAP report authors also emphasized that it can become a vital source of support for young people.

In terms of protection against suicide attempts, the report found that close relationships with parents, friends and the school (teachers and classmates) as well as religious involvement can help.

While suicide rates vary by gender and race, the AAP report found that teenage girls have more suicidal attempts than boys but the latter is more likely to die from suicide by three-fold. This is because teenage boys choose more deadly methods for their suicide attempts, including firearms.

One in 50 to 100 suicide attempts among teenagers is successful. In 2013 alone, almost 1,750 teenagers aged 15 to 19 years old died from suicide.

The report was published in the Pediatrics journal on June 27.

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