Social withdrawal in teens linked to higher suicide risk, study shows

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A recent study has raised concerns about the mental health of adolescents who avoid social activities and suffer from physical discomforts like headaches and stomachaches.

This research suggests that such behaviors in preteens could significantly increase their risk of having suicidal thoughts by age 16.

Dr. John Duffy, a psychologist based in Chicago who was not involved in the study, corroborated these findings with his own experiences in clinical practice.

He observed a higher risk of suicidal thoughts in teens who are socially withdrawn and experience symptoms of anxiety in early adolescence.

Duffy emphasized that this is particularly true among boys and young men, attributing this trend to the lack of emotional expression typically encouraged in boys compared to girls.

The concern about adolescent mental health is underscored by the rising numbers of suicide attempts and deaths among young people in the United States, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Japanese study, researchers analyzed data from over 2,700 adolescents participating in the Tokyo Teen Cohort study, which began in 2012.

The study monitored the mental and physical development of these adolescents, with parents completing questionnaires about their child’s mental and behavioral symptoms at ages 10, 12, and 16. Suicidal thoughts at age 16 were identified through specific questions about the desire to be alive.

The results showed that preteens who were socially withdrawn and had physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches had a two to three times higher likelihood of experiencing suicidal thoughts at age 16.

Published in JAMA Network Open on January 25, the study highlights the importance of social connections for mental health, as noted by Dr. Christopher Willard of Harvard Medical School.

He pointed out that choosing to withdraw socially is more concerning than being excluded by others.

Lead author Dr. Shuntaro Ando from the University of Tokyo advised parents not to dismiss withdrawal symptoms in children who have always been shy or prefer solitude.

Warning signs of potential suicidal thoughts include extreme mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, giving away prized possessions, or a preoccupation with death. Early intervention and seeking professional help are crucial.

Additionally, the supportive role of peers, coaches, or family friends should not be underestimated in helping adolescents navigate these challenges.

This study serves as a crucial reminder of the need to pay attention to both the social behavior and physical symptoms of adolescents, as they can be early indicators of serious mental health issues.

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The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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