Suicide prevention: Legislation introduced to help medical workers identify young people at risk

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Youth suicide rates have jumped in the era of COVID, accelerating a nationwide trend that started in the mid-2000s. On Monday, an Illinois congresswoman joined forces with medical experts to do something about that.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can reach out to the National SuicidePrevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.

At Lurie Children's Hospital, Rep. Lauren Underwood (D- 14th District) - a nurse - said her Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act would give continuing education grants to medical workers to help them identify youngsters especially at risk of doing harm to themselves.

"Our nurses or doctors and mental health officials have told me how desperately they need training and resources to be able to identify and to respond to the warning signs for suicide among their young patients," Underwood said.

Lurie officials said youth suicide has increased 50% from 2007 to 2017 - and now is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24. The legislation would support messaging on safe storage of firearms and medications that play a disproportionate role in suicides.

"Recently a mother had gone in to check on her teenage daughter and found that she had hung herself. Despite the best efforts of the medical team, we were unable to save her, and I will never forget the grief in her mother's eyes.," said Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, attending physician in emergency medicine at Lurie Children's Hospital. "But it didn't have to be that way, because suicide is preventable."

"The congresswoman's proposed legislation will help us better equip our healthcare professionals with the tools to identify symptoms early, intervene earlier, and save the lives of our friends, neighbors and family members," said Scott Block, a licensed professional counselor and executive director of McHenry County Mental Health Board.

Grace Hammond says she has suffered from depression and ADHD. With more focus on young people and their COVID-related mental health challenges, she said grants helping medical workers identify people in crisis will save lives.

"Be a voice for those who are struggling and always be a friend," Hammond said. "As human beings, let's have a more genuine care and love for those around us and let's be the people who are bold enough to ask the hard questions about people and how they are doing."

According to the United Health Foundation, the country saw 11.1 teen suicides per 100,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19 in 2020, up from 10.5 in 2019. In Illinois, there were 8.8 teen suicides per 100,000 adolescents in 2020, down from 9.4 in 2019.
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