Examining Teen Suicide Prevention

Details about adolescent suicide and suicide intervention techniques were the focus points of NASW's Specialty Practice Sections (SPS) teleconference on Dec. 10.

Stacey FreedenthalThe teleconference was presented by Stacey Freedenthal, assistant professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. She is also a clinical practice specialist whose research focuses on suicide prevention and help-seeking, especially among young people and American Indian adolescents and adults.

The teleconference offered SPS members the opportunity to earn 1.0 continuing education units after successful completion of an online exam. The teleconference and other topics are available for review to SPS members by audio download or transcript.

Freedenthal noted that recent surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that one in four high school students seriously considers suicide each year and that one in 10 makes an attempt. Almost 2,000 adolescents, ages 12-19, die each year by suicide.

Freedenthal went over the risk factors for adolescent suicide: mental illness, substance use, male gender, a previous suicide attempt, impulsivity, recent loss, trauma, family history, and whether there is a firearm in the household.

She also discussed ways to assess a client's suicidal intent. The important thing to do is ask the client if he or she is experiencing suicidal thoughts, she said. Freedenthal listed key questions to ask the client, including finding out if there has been any previous suicidal behavior. A common fear among therapists is that the client will find any questions about suicidal thoughts insulting. "It doesn't help our clients to beat around the bush," Freedenthal said. "Asking the question in more than one way is important."

Other SPS teleconferences have been scheduled for this year. They include: "Promoting Treatment Adherence for Clients Living a Chronic Illness: The ADHERE Model," held in February, and "Difficult Ethical Cases in Social Work: The Art of Decision Making" taking place on March 10.