A report by Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the University of Washington and Group Health Research Institute revealed that more than 70 percent of teenagers are not getting the mental health services they need.

The newly published report, “Adolescents With Suicidal Ideation: Health Care Use and Functioning,” discovered that merely “13 percent of teens having suicidal thoughts received mental health visits through their healthcare network and only 16 percent received services in the year after, despite being eligible for and having access to mental healthcare without a referral and with relatively small co-pays. Additionally, when all types of mental health services were combined (including antidepressants and care received through outside sources), still only 26 percent of teens with suicide ideation in the study received services the year prior,” according to a Seattle Children’s press release.

“Teen suicide is a very real issue today in the United States,” said lead author Carolyn A. McCarty. “Until now, we’ve known very little about how much or how little suicidal teens use healthcare services. We found it particularly striking to observe such low rates of healthcare service use among most teens in our study.”

The researchers observed 198 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 for the study, 99 of whom had suicidal thoughts and 99 of whom were in the control group.

“We know that asking teens about suicidal ideation does not worsen their problems,” McCarty said. “It’s absolutely crucial for a teen who is having thoughts of self-harm or significant depression to be able to tell a helpful, trustworthy adult. … These findings underscore the need for clinicians to be aware of the potential for suicide in adolescence. Primary care physicians and healthcare providers should be specifically assessing suicidal ideation in the context of depression screening for teenagers. Effective screening tools are available, as are effective treatments for depression.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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