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Youth suicide rates on the rise

Dr. Mark Lynn says now more than ever, it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about their feelings.

Youth suicide rates are on the rise in the U.S., becoming the second-leading cause of death for people as young as 10.

But for Brainerd native Eryk Haapajoki, the issue of teen suicide is more than just a statistic.

Last year his 16-year-old son, Jake, took his own life.

“We had known he had been struggling with depression," Haapajoki said.

It's a hurt he still feels to this day. He thinks about Jake all the time - literally.

“You know, probably 10 times an hour," he said.

But even Haapajoki was surprised to hear kids much younger than Jake are dealing with the same problems.

“This is real. It’s not just 'buck up, butter cup,'" he said. "You know, the way it would have been years ago. This is a serious deal.”

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows over the last 20 years, 1.6 million kids ages 10 to 24 called poison control centers after attempting suicide; using prescription pills, street drugs and other household poisons.

The first 10 years - 2000-2010 - suicide attempts were relatively flat, according to the study. But in 2011 they went up in every age group, especially in girls 10-12, with a frightening 338-percent increase in attempted suicide.

“The rate at which it is increasing and the younger ages is very concerning.”

Dr. Mark Lynn is a child psychologist with Hennepin Healthcare.

He has a few theories as to why rates went up starting in 2011.

“That’s around the time smartphone technology arrived, social media arrived," he said. "It’s around the time of, you know, awareness of the opioid crisis.”

Lynn said the amount of time kids spend with each other has also never been higher, thanks to new technology. That's putting more pressure on them to fit in, and offering more opportunities to be bullied and gossiped about.

“The emotions they feel, their brains are wired to feel them more strongly," said Lynn. “Then when the pain hits, it can be that much more strong.”

Lynn says now more than ever, it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about their feelings.

“And I’m not saying it’s easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard," he said.

That's something Haapajoki is also encouraging with Smiles for Jake, a movement he and his family started to encourage teens and their parents to start talking openly about suicide and depression.

“It could be a high five, it could be a smile, just at that moment, it could bring their guard down and they might have a conversation," he said.

Once they start talking, maybe they’ll see that someone cares. And maybe they’ll reach out for help. And maybe if we do this enough, Haapajoki says, we can start a new trend.

“Where can we get that study five years from now, 10 years from now?" he said. "How do we make those numbers change? ... Because that’s a mistake they don’t need to make.”

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