In honor of September being Suicide Prevention month, I wanted to write an article to raise awareness about the epidemic of suicide among adolescents in our society today. It seems as though just about every time you turn on the news these days, one of the top stories running is about another teen having committed suicide yet again. Upon deeper exploration, some of the many contributing factors people have linked to this epidemic are an increase in bullying via social media, depression, divorce, domestic violence, academic troubles, feelings of worthlessness, substance abuse, and grieving the death of someone close. It is a very real problem in the United States today that continues to be on the rise. In some cases, many teens believe that suicide is their only way out and they may see it as a welcomed escape from whatever situation they feel unequipped to handle at the time.
I found the current available statistics for this disturbing at best. The Centers for Disease control report that it is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14. It results in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year. For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other teen suicide attempts. In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made a suicidal plan, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year. As many as 8 out of 10 teens who commit suicide cry out for help in some way beforehand, such as by seeing a doctor shortly before the suicide attempt and or taking part in self-destructive and self-injurious behaviors. Teen girls and boys are both at risk for suicide. While teen girls are more likely to attempt, teenage boys are four to five times more likely to die by suicide.
Knowledge, prevention and intervention are our best tools as a society to fight against this epidemic as much as possible. In order to prevent teen suicide, it is vital to recognize what leads to it, and then treat the causes. Although it is an unpleasant topic to discuss or merely think about, it is important to be aware of signs that your family member, friend, or someone you know may attempt suicide. It is sometimes difficult to see the distinction between these signs and normal adolescent behavior. The teenage years are difficult enough, and sometimes normal behavior looks very similar to destructive behavior. However, it should always be taken seriously regardless because in this type of situation, it is most definitely better to be safe than sorry. In any case, some of the warning signs are as follows:
• Talking about death and/or suicide (even seemingly as a joke)
• Suicidal Ideation
• Past trauma
• Expresses worries that nobody cares about him or her.
• Past suicide attempts
• Dramatic changes in personality and behavior
• Social Withdrawal
• Substance Abuse
• Begins to act recklessly and engage in risk-taking behaviors.
• Begins to give away sentimental possessions.
• Spends time online interacting with people who glamorize suicide and maybe even form suicidal pacts
According to a study done by the University of Texas, 75 percent of the people who commit suicide are depressed. It is a good start to begin by treating the symptoms of teen depression and is recommended to seek professional help in prevention efforts. A variety of mental health professionals can assist with this including Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Psychologists and so forth. A family doctor, school counselor/social worker, and or other community agencies would be able to provide a list of resources that can be helpful outlets with addressing these concerns. Therapy can be done individually or as a family, learning and practicing techniques to cope with life. Often, when a teen learns how to handle problems (and families learn how to help), the desire to kill him or herself dissipates gradually. Crisis Intervention, Partial Hospitalization and Residential Treatment is treatment in which a suicidal teen goes elsewhere to live for a time; usually with a group of other teens struggling with similar issues. In these settings, the teenager is monitored 24/7 in order to prevent a suicide attempt. Additionally, most residential treatment facilities have trained professional staff that can help address suicidal ideation. Medication is often seen as a last resort, or as something complementary to other treatments. It cannot be stressed enough to consider the needs that are present before introducing medication as it can sometimes result in the opposite effect of what is desired.
I can empathize with anyone who has lost someone close to them due to suicide and it leaves so many painful questions and often unresolved situations behind. It is often even worse somehow when the person is gone way before their time. In hopes of remaining mindful of this unfortunate reality and practicing good prevention, it is important to treat everyone but especially our youth, with respect and understanding. Offer emotional support and exhibit unconditional positive regard despite the fact that this age group often acts out in hostile, unkind ways. Regardless, it is imperative that a teen considering suicide feel loved and wanted. Work with your friend or family member to help them realize that it is possible to overcome life’s challenges and make sure that he or she knows that you are in their corner and willing to help out. Most importantly, don’t ever ignore the problem and just hope that it will fade. Please share this with family and friends in hopes that there may be one less successful suicide attempt tomorrow.
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Please consider not using the term “commit” suicide. Suicide is not a criminal act. It is a complex and tragic result to a set of circumstances that are informed by a huge array of factors including mental illness, trauma, and reduced ability to cope in a complicated world. But it is not a criminal act. The word commit gives the connotation of a crime and dates back to a time when suicide was viewed very differently than our more enlightened understanding of today.