An Integrated Approach to Young Adult Mental Health Rehab

Preventing Suicide Among Young Adults: Statistics and Strategies

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An increased risk of suicide among young adults is one of the most troubling effects of the COVID pandemic. According to the CDC, one in every four young adults (ages 18–24) has seriously considered suicide as a result of the pandemic and its impact on their social, academic, work, and family life. These suicide statistics underline the vital importance of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, which includes World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 and Suicide Prevention Week, September 5–11.

Because the pandemic interrupted their lives at a pivotal developmental stage, young adults are are struggling with mental health challenges at higher rates than any other demographic. In addition to data on suicidal ideation, the CDC report included the following depression and suicide statistics for young adults:

  • 62 percent reported anxiety disorder or depressive disorder symptoms
  • 46 percent had COVID-related trauma- or stressor-related disorders
  • 28 percent started or increased substance abuse as a way to cope with pandemic-related stress and emotions
  • 75 percent experienced at least one mental or behavioral health symptom.

TWLOHA and Newport Partner to Help Prevent Suicide Among Young Adults

To help support young people around the country, Newport is partnering for the fifth year in a row with To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). TWLOHA is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. The TWLOHA mission statement includes the commitment “to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.” Newport’s partnership with TWLOHA aims to rally supporters across the country and the globe to take action to reverse the rising rate of suicide among young adults and teens.

The theme of the TWLOHA’s 2021 suicide awareness campaign, “Another Day with You,” expresses the desire of family, friends, neighbors, classmates, etc., to have another day with someone struggling with thoughts of suicide—another day for feelings to shift, joy to be reintroduced, and hope to grow. The goal of the campaign is to raise $250,000 to support treatment and recovery, including more than 3,500 individual and group therapy sessions as well as 45,000 searches on the organization’s “Find Help” tool.

This campaign is about making it possible for moments of authentic connection and conversation to happen—whether that's in the classroom, at the dinner table, or online—that just might help someone stay another day. We want those struggling to feel seen and for everyone to know they can be a part of the solution, and we appreciate the generous support from Newport Healthcare to make a difference.

Lindsay Kolsch
TWLOHA Co-Executive Director

Studies Show Increase in Young Adult Suicide Rates

Even before the pandemic, suicide statistics for young adults were alarming. A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the suicide rate for ages 20–24 has reached its highest point since 2000, rising 57.4 percent between 2007 and 2018. Correspondingly, research shows a 71 percent increase in serious psychological distress among young adults over the past two decades.

Additionally, 2021 data from Mental Health America (MHA) shows that the more than 10.7 million adults are experiencing serious suicidal thoughts—an increase of some 460,000 people as compared to 2020 data. Furthermore, 130 US residents die by suicide each day, and there are 1.4 million suicide attempts made each year. According to the JED Foundation, 10 percent of college students seriously consider attempting suicide, and 1,100 college students die by suicide each year.

Researchers theorize that a variety of factors are contributing to this dramatic rise, all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. These include social media overuse, cyberbullying, poor sleep habits, and a decline in the amount of time this age group spends face-to-face with friends. Moreover, for specific ethnic and cultural groups, rates of suicide are even higher. For American Indian and Alaska Native youth, the rate of suicide is 2.5 times higher than that of their peers. Asian American and LGBTQ young adults also have disproportionately high rates of depression and suicide.

And, even as mental health problems are rising, access to care has become alarmingly limited. In fact, MHA’s 2021 report found that 57 percent of adults with a mental illness do not receive any mental health treatment at all.

10 Risk Factors for Suicide Among Young Adults

Beyond the current COVID-related issues, other factors can contribute to the risk of young adult suicide. Risk factors do not cause suicide, but they may contribute to a person’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt. The top reasons for suicide among young adults include the following:

  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
  • A history of substance abuse
  • Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma, either chronic or acute
  • Social isolation, which has increased significantly during the pandemic
  • Losing a family member through death or divorce
  • Financial or job loss
  • Conflict within relationships
  • Starting or changing psychotropic medications
  • Feeling stigmatized
  • Lack of a support system.

Risk Factors for Suicide Among Young Adults

Beyond the current COVID-related issues, other factors can contribute to the risk of young adult suicide. Risk factors do not cause suicide, but they may contribute to a person’s likelihood of making a suicide attempt. The top reasons for suicide among young adults include the following:

  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
  • Family history of suicide
  • A history of substance abuse
  • Exposure to violence, abuse, or other trauma, either chronic or acute
  • Social isolation, which has increased significantly during the pandemic
  • Losing a family member through death or divorce
  • Financial or job loss
  • Conflict within relationships
  • Starting or changing psychotropic medications
  • Feeling stigmatized
  • Lack of a support system.

Suicide Warning Signs and How to Take Action

While social isolation is a major threat to young adult well-being, returning to in-person school or an on-site workplace also creates stressors, heightening anxiety around safety and socializing. As a result, family members and loved ones need to be particularly vigilant during these times of transition. Here are some of the warning signs of depression and suicidal ideation.

  • Talking or posting on social media about suicide or wanting to die
  • Sharing that they are feeling a sense of hopelessness or being trapped
  • Increasing use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Losing or gaining weight; changes in eating habits
  • Extreme changes in sleep habits; insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Gathering drugs, sharp objects, firearms, or other items that could be used to commit suicide or self-harm
  • Withdrawing from friends and family members
  • Doing online searches for methods of committing suicide
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye, and giving away possessions they care about
  • Trouble concentrating at work and/or a drop in academic performance
  • Unexplained physical issues such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior
  • Suddenly becoming calm or cheerful after a long period of being depressed and sad.

If you see any of these signs, take the following actions:

  1. Do not leave the person alone.
  2. Remove anything that could be used in a suicide attempt, including firearms, alcohol, drugs, razors, or other sharp objects.
  3. Call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  4. Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline runs a network of suicide hotline crisis centers. Moreover, they provide information about taking suicide precautions.

Treatment for Young Adult Depression and Anxiety

To address young adult depression and anxiety and therefore prevent suicide, comprehensive assessment and treatment is critical. The integrated approach to care utilized at Newport Institute includes the following evidence-based modalities:

  • Family therapy to help young adults heal childhood trauma and/or family ruptures while establishing autonomy and making connections outside the family
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify self-defeating thoughts and assumptions that make life more difficult
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which provides specific skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation, which can be used right away and become stronger with practice.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) to support transformation and healing by resolving any initial resistance young adults may have to treatment
  • Creative arts therapy, such as art therapy and music therapy, give young adults ways to process their emotions through self-expression
  • Adventure therapy, supporting young adults to build trust, mastery, and collaboration skills
  • Yoga and mindfulness to promote self-awareness and help bring young adults into the present moment
  • Positive coping skills, such as using the breath and reframing negative thinking.

In summary, understanding the causes, warning signs, and risk factors for suicide among young adults can help prevent tragic loss of life. As TWLOHA’s “Another Day with You” campaign emphasizes, life offers so many possibilities for connection and fulfillment. With the support of loved ones and with access to the mental healthcare they need, emerging adults can look forward to a hopeful future.

We are grateful for all that TWLOHA does to raise awareness, promote prevention, and erase the stigma of suicide. Remaining idle is not an option when so many are struggling with thoughts of self-harm and hopelessness amplified by the pandemic. Newport is proud to play a part in helping people access much-needed treatment so that they can see the importance of living another day.

Joe Procopio
CEO, Newport Healthcare
Sources

CDC. 2020 Aug;69(32);1049–1057.

Lancet. 2020 Jun;7(6):468–471.

JAMA. 2019;321(23):2362–2364.

Sleep Med. 2017 Nov;39:47–53.

J Soc Pers Rel. 2019 Jun;36(6):1892–1913.

Mental Health / August 26, 2021

Newport Institute

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