Research out of the University of Waterloo has found teenagers and young adults living with a chronic disease are three times more likely to attempt suicide. They are also more likely to have suicidal thoughts or make a plan to end their life.
“In general, what we found was about seven per cent of individuals between 15 and 30 years of age who suffered from conditions like migraine headaches, epilepsy or Crohn’s disease endorsed at least one of those behaviours,” said Mark Ferro, a professor of applied health sciences at the University of Waterloo and one of the study’s authors.
Ferro said he hopes doctors will pay attention to these findings and consider their patient’s mental health needs.
“We hope to encourage health-care professionals to continue to ask young people about their mental health during routine clinic visits, and if they’re showing signs and symptoms of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, to refer them to mental health specialists.”
Ayla Huculak, 25, has lived with Crohn’s disease since she was a little girl. She says growing up, her condition made her feel isolated and self-conscious.
“I’ve had weight struggles because sometimes I’m on steroids. I also have scars on my abdomen from surgery.”
Huculak said she wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings. She has struggled with depression and even considered suicide when she was younger.
“I’ve definitely dealt with that. I had suicidal thoughts when I was a teenager. You don’t feel like everybody else, because you know you’re different.”
Organizations like Crohn’s and Colitis Canada call the study’s findings eye-opening.
“They are shocking numbers, but when you actually think about the correlation between chronic illness and mental health, it’s probably not that surprising,” said Charlotte Hall-Coates, youth engagement coordinator with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.
“Typical onset for Crohn’s and colitis usually happens between the ages of 15 and 30,” she said. “These are young people who have a lot going on in their their lives and with chronic illness on top of that, it can make things really difficult.”
Hall-Coates said the organization tries to provide support for young people, especially during the early days of their diagnosis.
The Gutsy Peer-Support program connects those who have been newly diagnosed with an online mentor. Camp Got2Go is a summer camp that gives young people living with the condition a chance to connect with others in a fun environment.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.