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Asking teenagers about suicide won't make them more likely to contemplate it, as some parents and school officials fear, a study suggests.

In fact, the study found that simply asking troubled students about any suicidal impulses appears to ease their distress and might make some of them less likely to try killing themselves.

The results confirm what many mental health experts already believe and should alleviate fears among some parents and schools that just mentioning suicide might plant the idea in teens' minds, said study author Madelyn Gould, a researcher at Columbia University and New York Psychiatric Institute.

National data suggest that each year more than 3 million youngsters ages 15 to 19 think seriously about committing suicide. About 1.7 million try it, with more than half of the attempts requiring medical attention; and about 1,600 succeed.

"Without asking a kid directly, it's sometimes hard to pick up," Gould said.

Gould's study involved 2,342 students at six suburban New York high schools.

The study appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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