Adolescence and Suicide Risk
By Beth Berkowitz, PsyD., Director of Children’s Clinical Services and Child Training Institute at JFCS’ Parents Place
In California in 2018, suicide was the third leading cause of death among young people 15 – 24 years old. The San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula has seen the highest numbers of suicides as compared to the rest of the country for more than 10 years. In our community especially, adolescent suicide is an epidemic that needs to be addressed head-on.
Adolescence is a time when important values, beliefs, and practices are tested and when many lifelong habits are formed. The choices that youth make during this period have long-term effects. Research suggests that the support systems and opportunities that teens experience in adolescence play a critical role in whether these choices are positive or negative.
In the past decade, there has been an increased focus on what is being referred to as “toxic stress” in adolescence, culminating, all too often, in tragic results. Intense over-scheduling remains a common complaint of teens, particularly in the Bay Area. School-related pressures are a challenge in most teens’ lives, and this trend has intensified in recent years. In an ever-escalating competition for college acceptance, teens must build resumes that demonstrate their “exceptional” experiences, leaving very little down time. The recent College Admissions Scandal is the latest indicator of the amount of pressure teens and their families perceive in regards to getting into a top-tier college. The pressure to succeed is immense and intolerable for some teens.
Overall, teenagers are getting less sleep, postponing learning to drive, spending less time in person with their friends, and dating less. They are not as eager to study or work and they exhibit more anxiety and depression than ever before. An increasing number of teens feel more comfortable in their bedrooms than in a car or at a party, today’s youth are physically safer but also more isolated and prone to comparison of themselves to the often false or exaggerated social media personas of their peers.
Psychologically, today’s adolescents are more vulnerable than prior generations. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011, and iGen has been described as being on the “brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.” In 2016, the CDC descended upon Silicon Valley to investigate the rash of suicides—more than five times the national average. Community-wide concern has led to the development of new service models, including such interventions as the Crisis Text Line and Safe Space.
Jewish Family and Children’s Services is working closely with other groups and organizations on the Peninsula to support effective new models of service delivery that provide teens with greater support in times of crisis.
Beth Berkowitz is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience providing treatment to children, adolescents, and their families in outpatient, day treatment, residential, and school-based settings. She has extensive experience serving children who struggle with anxiety, depression, attention difficulties, and family separation. Beth has spent the past eight years administering clinical training programs, supervising clinical staff, facilitating clinical seminars, and directing program development in the nonprofit sector. Beth’s commitment to mental health, strength-based services, and culturally informed treatment have been the hallmarks of her many years of clinical service and management. Beth holds a Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Psychology/Theater Arts from Cal State University and completed her Doctor of Psychology degree at California School of Professional Psychology where she focused on Adolescent Development.