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Several Agencies Join Fight Against Teen-Age Suicide

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Washington--As concern about the increasing rate of youth suicide mounts, organizations ranging from a Cabinet agency to a fledgling nonprofit group have announced that they are undertaking ambitious projects to address the problem.

This month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services established a national task force on youth suicide. In April, a private nonprofit group formed by several individuals active in suicide prevention announced the establishment of a "Youth Suicide National Center." And a national con-ference on youth suicide is being held here this week.

All three projects are responses to the growing suicide rate among young people ages 15 to 24, which has more than tripled since the 1950's. About 6,000 young people killed themselves in 1983, according to government statistics.

'Stop the Tragedy'

"I am determined that Health and Human Services must do all it can to help stop the tragedy of youth suicide," Margaret M. Heckler, Secretary of the Cabinet agency, said in announcing the new task force. She said it "will actively work to bring together health professionals, educators, and social providers with parents and young people themselves."

At a news conference this month, Secretary Heckler cited a need for more information about ways to predict suicide and about "suicide clusters," or groups of several suicides in one area.

Shervert H. Frazier, director of the National Institute on Mental Health, will head the seven-member national task force. It will include representatives from various federal departments, including the Institute on Drug Abuse, the Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Centers for Disease Control.

The task force, which will issue a final paper next year, will be supported by the participating agencies at an estimated cost of $200,000 in the fiscal year 1985 and $500,000 in fiscal 1986, an hhs spokesman said.

National Clearinghouse

The Youth Suicide National Center will help organize suicide-prevention programs at the local and national levels and will serve as a national information clearinghouse, according to its president, Charlotte P. Ross, who is executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Center of San Mateo County, Calif.

Seymour Perlman, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, will serve as chairman.

The center was started with $13,000 in contributions, Ms. Ross said. The group hopes to underwrite the estimated $500,000 annual cost of running the organization with gifts from foundations and individuals, she added.

Suicide Conference

The center has joined hhs in sponsoring the national conference on youth suicide, scheduled for June 19-20. The conference will include a number of workshops and speakers, among them Secretary of Education William J. Bennett and the actress Mariette Hartley, who was featured in last October's prime-time television movie on suicide, "Silence of the Heart."

Also this month, 1,000 student leaders from junior high schools will discuss the problem of teen-age suicide at the 49th annual meeting of the National Association of Student Councils at Bethel Park Senior High School near Pittsburgh.

Student leaders participating in the meeting, to be held June 23-27, will hear a panel of experts discuss teen-age suicide. Participants will include members of the National Committee on Youth Suicide Prevention, the American Association of Suicidology, and the Adolescent Suicide Awareness Program.

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