About half of parents are unaware that their teenagers have suicidal thoughts and more than 75 percent didn’t know their children had recurrent thoughts of death, according to research published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second-leading cause of death among adolescents.
The latest research, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, is the largest study to examine the gap in awareness between parents and children with regard to thoughts of self-harm.
Researchers surveyed more than 5,000 11- to 17-year-olds about their thoughts of self-harm, specifically if they ever had suicidal thoughts and if they had recurrent thoughts about death and dying. They then asked their parents if they believed their kids were thinking about suicide and death.
The researchers found that parents were largely unaware of suicidal thoughts in their teenagers, about half of the parental group. More than 75 percent didn’t realize how often their children think about death.
“Early identification and intervention hinge on reliable and valid assessment of suicide risk,” the researchers wrote. “The high prevalence of parental unawareness and adolescent denial of suicidal thoughts found in this study suggests that many adolescents at risk for suicide may go undetected.”
They also found that when parents believed their kids were having suicidal thoughts, the teenagers denied it.
“Interestingly, we also identified numerous dyads in which the parent reported suicidal thoughts that the adolescent did not endorse,” the researchers wrote. “Overall, there has been a paucity of research examining adolescents’ ‘denial’ of suicidal thoughts endorsed by parents, and this study advances our understanding of this phenomenon.”
The researchers also found a lack of awareness by parents based on the age of their children — with parents of younger children more likely to be unaware of their kids’ suicidal thoughts.
The researchers recommend that pediatricians increase screenings for depression to better identify at-risk youth.
In 2016, about 45,000 people killed themselves, an increase of 30 percent since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.