SDYS Study Finds that Youth At-risk for Self-harm and Suicide are Overwhelmingly Open to Receiving Treatment, but Barriers Often Prevent Access to Mental Health Services
The study assessed 400 students in San Diego County schools
San Diego Youth Services’ Associate Executive Director Steven Jella and HERE Now- School Based Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Program Manager Amy Chavez recently presented an SDYS study: Youth with Self-Injurious Behavior and Suicidal Ideation and Their Perceptions of Trusted Adults, at the International Family Therapy Association Conference in Puerto Rico.
SDYS’ team were able to collect data for this study as part of the HERE Now program, serving San Diego middle and high schools, from the 2018 to 2021 school year. More than 82,000 students were reached through this program during those years and had access to SDYS’ prevention and early intervention program. Of those, approximately 400 were included in the study.
“Our results revealed that youth overwhelmingly reported being open to services but were often not receiving much-needed support,” said Jella. “This means there is a gap in community mental health prevention and intervention treatments for many young people.”
Suicidal ideation, meaning thinking about dying by suicide or planning to take one’s own life, and self-injurious behaviors, meaning a purposeful act to harm one’s body without any intention to die as a result of the behavior, is usually used as a coping strategy to change one’s emotional state and continues to be a prevalent issue among youth in many different communities. The reasons behind this depend on different factors and include, but are not limited to, feeling isolated and disconnected from other people, a lack of coping skills and sometimes a lack of trusted adults.
“What we also found is that family connections and building positive connections with others serve as protective factors against self-injurious behavior,” said Chavez.
The average age of onset of self-injurious behaviors is during adolescence, at about 14 to 16 years old, and without treatment, the behaviors usually continue with increasing severity into one’s late 20’s. As the behavior continues, it can desensitize an individual and put that person at a higher risk to attempt suicide.
“Many times, young people may feel as though they do not have a trusted adult to rely on,” said Chavez. “They may feel disconnected from their family or other trusted adults, and it is important to work with them and their families to take steps to reconnect the family or connect the youth with other trusted adults that can help keep them safe.”
Family programs that provide a combination of positive interaction, therapy to change negative family patterns, and assisting youth to find alternative coping strategies may have the best chance to improve the overall wellbeing of youth.
The study revealed that counselors and prevention professionals can also help by continuously assess youth’s barriers to receiving life-saving services and provide warm-handoffs, which include working closely with providers and communicating with families to ensure they know the next steps.
“We are hoping that this study will provide a meaningful impact on how youth are assessed and provided resources,” said Jella. “Our goal is to ensure that each and every young person in San Diego gets the mental healthcare they need.”