Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

What’s sleep got to do with it?

Teen sleep problems and suicide risk

I'm always looking for ways for people to think differently about suicide prevention. Researchers in Idaho and Michigan may have come up with something good.

Studying teens, researchers found that sleep problems were associated with suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. At first read, I thought that what had been reinforced was a link between depression, which is also associated with sleep problems in teens, and suicide. But, these researchers screened for depression.

So, they've given people who work with teens a whole new way to help them. Particularly for medical professionals, who are in a position to ask teens questions about their health in general, asking about sleep is easy.

"It's easier to broach the topic of sleep with patients, since it's easier to talk about a physical problem," said Idaho State University researcher Maria Wong in a Reuters article.

It's also makes what could be a difficult conversation for a teen a bit more comfortable.

"It's easier for them to answer questions like, 'Did you sleep well last night?' and get into why they are not sleeping well and how they are feeling lately," Wong said.

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What I like about focusing on sleep, rather than immediately asking about suicide, is that sleep is important to overall health. Poor sleep isn't just linked to suicide risk - it's also linked to other problems. So talking with teens about sleep and working on improving sleep in adolescence has benefits that will continue to pay off over time.

That isn't to say that it's a substitute for talking about suicide, just that it may be a starting point for talking about emotional health. Are there other ways to start this conversation?

Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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