Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the suicide rate for youth and young adults, age 10 to 24, increased by more than 50% from 2000 to 2021 and suicide rates for this age group are continuing to rise.
Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital Responds to Rising Youth Suicide Rates With ‘Staying Alive Lehigh Valley’
The two-day educational conference focused on informing the community about youth suicide prevention and pediatric mental health
As a way to help address the mental health needs of young people, Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital hosted its first-ever youth suicide prevention conference, Staying Alive Lehigh Valley. This free, two-day educational conference at SureStay Hotel by Best Western Lehigh Valley in Hanover Township focused on informing local adults – particularly parents, educators, health specialists and those who work with children – about youth suicide prevention and pediatric mental health.
Held on May 11-12, the conference featured presentations from world-renowned adolescent health specialists and aimed to address suicide as well as many issues related to teen life such as eating disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, school avoidance, social media and athletics. The event also featured a teen panel discussion, moderated by Hatim Omar, MD, chief of adolescent medicine at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital.
“Teenagers are not fundamentally all that different than they have been for all of human history,” Omar says. “What has changed is the environment and world that they live in. Staying Alive Lehigh Valley explores challenges today’s youth and young adults face and what we can do to help them.”
Teens get candid about mental health and how adults can help
The panel consisted of 12 young people, ranging from middle school age to college students, who shared openly about their lives, pressures they face and tips for coping. The audience was given the opportunity to interact with the panel, leading to an open and honest discussion about a variety of topics.
When asked what makes it hard to be a teen in 2023, one panelist responded, “Our generation, we grew up with social media, we grew up with technology and phones, so it’s warped our mindset, versus like you guys, you guys didn’t really grow up with technology, you guys played outside together and talked and did all that. I grew up as an iPad kid.”
Another panelist chimed in, “We’re trying to learn about the world, and we’re expected to already know. We want to be able to have fun and be able to be more like adults because we feel older, but at the same time we still feel like kids. So we’re being pulled in two different directions in pretty much everything we do.”
The panel also discussed how therapists, doctors, school counselors and parents can help support youth and their mental health, offering their perspectives on what approaches they find useful from therapists, how parents’ behavior impacts their views of themselves, difficulty trusting professionals and what they do to help deal with mental health struggles.
Youth suicide prevention through Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital
Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital is dedicated to stopping youth suicide and to supporting the mental health of the children and teens in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. Staying Alive Lehigh Valley is proof of this commitment.
“I want people to really quit talking about mental health and physical health as if they’re separate because anything that affects your quality of life is health,” Omar says. “If we don’t address them together, we generally don’t do anything good and we fail to treat them.”
“At Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, we don’t separate the mental from the physical with health and that is a major reason why children and young people appreciate the care they receive here,” Omar continues.
If a child or teen is struggling with their mental health, has been having suicidal thoughts or has participated in self-harm, it’s best to make them an appointment with one of Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital’s child and adolescent psychiatrists. These clinicians can evaluate the child’s risk and recommend a care plan specific to them.
If a child or teen opens up about having a plan for committing suicide or there’s reason to believe they’re in danger of doing so, it is best to bring them to the Breidegam Family Children’s ER (or the closest ER) for urgent evaluation and support.