The suicide of two high school juniors in Olathe, Kansas has become international news. For me, this is something that hits close to home, not just because I work in the mental health field, but because I grew up in Olathe and have friends who have children at the high school and friends who are educators at Olathe Northwest as well. While many of the articles and news stories have focused on the youths and their suicide, what we can take away from this is something bigger still than just the sorrow felt by those who knew the two girls.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 12-18. Every day in the United States, there are over 5,400 suicide attempts by young people in who are in grades 7-12. What is important to note is that 4 out of 5 of those 5,400 youths give warning signs prior to attempting suicide. The point of stating that is not to blame the parents, teachers, or others around the two girls from Olathe or any other child who attempts or completes suicide, but to explain that as professionals, and adults who are a part of the lives of youths, we need to be aware of what to look for when it comes to youths who may attempt suicide so that we can prevent many of the lost lives that happen each year.
So what is it that we should look for that can hopefully help us to intervene and prevent suicide in the teenagers who are in our lives? The National Suicide Hotline lists a number of warning signs to be aware of to help know that someone may be thinking about suicide.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
If any of these warning signs are present, reaching out to that child and asking for more information and finding someone for the youth to talk to is paramount. Some youth and adults who are contemplating suicide will talk with those they know, but often a professional is the best option, as the individual may feel as though they can’t talk to those who are in their lives. While providers in more rural areas may be difficult to get in contact with, there is also the National Suicide Hotline, which is available to every person, is fielded by various mental health centers around the nation, and can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Justin D. Nutt, LMSW, CSW, T-LAC, BIP
SJS Clinical Director and Staff Writer