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Teen Suicide Prevention

December 3, 2012 / Posted by in Blog

By Alexa Kallianiotes

The latest statistics on teenage suicide are sobering and difficult to comprehend. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds, with car accidents and homicides being the first and second causes of teenage death. It is also the fourth cause of death for 10-14 year olds. Teen suicide is on the rise; having leveled off in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, it has been steadily climbing. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide cites that there are 25 suicide attempts for every completed suicide. The knowledge that so many suicides are attempted is staggering.

Gender plays a significant role in suicide rates and methods. Girls tend to plan more how and when they will commit suicide, usually doing it by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Girls tend to attempt suicide several times. Boys tend to succeed in committing suicide on the first try, four times higher than girls, because they use more lethal methods: firearms, hanging, jumping from heights.

Teenage suicide can tear families apart, causing gnawing guilt, doubt, and frustration. Parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, and coaches can be left wondering if they could have done anything to prevent this tragedy. More importantly, knowing that a young person was driven to end his or her life because living became too difficult or painful creates emptiness in those left behind that often never goes away.

It is hard for most people to grasp that a teenager would end his or her life at a time intended for planning for the future. Adolescence should be a time of self-discovery and hope, not a time of withdrawal and despair. The teenager of today faces the problems and situations teens have traditionally dealt with: establishing identity, dating, coping with physical changes, and scholastic achievement—to name a few. Yet, today’s teens have even more life choices to make than teens from previous generations and are more impacted by growing up in a world where technology is rapidly changing. No one wants to think about teen suicide and the possible contributing factors because it makes us uncomfortable. But not only do we need to start thinking and talking about it, we need to confront the causes, find possible solutions, and remain aware.

Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and others in the lives of teens need to be able to identify those at risk, offer possible solutions, and know how to seek help. The CDC provides the following guidelines (backed by statistics) to help identify teens that may be vulnerable: teens with existing mental problems, anxiety, depression, bi- polar disorder, and insomnia, are perceived to be at higher risk. The same goes for teens struggling with life-changing situations or major events: death of a parent, financial changes, divorce of parents, moving, or a parent being far away because of military service or separation. In addition, high-risk teens may also be those who have difficulty feeling connected to others or feeling that they belong.

The following factors can increase risk of suicide:

  • Psychological disorders – especially depression, bi-polar disorder, (95% of teens who die by suicide have psychological disorders at the time of their death)
  • Heavy alcohol and drug abuse
  • Feeling of hopeless and worthless (especially if accompanied by depression)
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of depression and/or suicide
  • Emotional, physical, sexual abuse
  • Dealing with bi-sexuality or homosexuality in a non-supportive or hostile family, school, or community environment
  • Lack of a support network- feeling a disconnected from the community/society, isolation, poor relationship with parents, inability to communicate

In addition to the above risk guidelines, the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide lists the following warning signs:

  • Focus on death and dying
  • Hints they will not be around for very long
  • Talking about feeling guilty, loss of hope
  • Pulling away from family and friends
  • Stopping activities they enjoy
  • Giving away treasured possessions to family and friends
  • Drastic change in sleeping and eating habits
  • Sudden high risk behavior
  • Writing poems, songs, plays, about death
  • Extreme change in appearance

Many kids are bullied daily or weekly in school. This unrelenting type of bullying can cause some of these teens to seek suicide as a solution. Because bullying has received national attention lately, many schools and communities are taking a strong stance against it. Parent and teens need to determine if bullying is a phase or problem.

The CDC offers some tips to “bully proofing” your teen:

  • Talk about it with your teen before it happens – if bullying occurs, decide with your teen who is the best person to approach (the bully or school authorities) be supportive of your teen
  • Remove the cause – If this is happening because of lunch money or carrying a certain electronic device, remove the cause for awhile
  • Buddy up – encourage the teen who is being bullied to be with two or three friends as much as possible while at school, bullying is more likely to happen if alone
  • If attempts to resolve the bullying do not work, then seek someone in the school or community to mediate

Modern technology has created cyber-bullying, stalking, and harassment. These new forms of bullying have contributed to the rise in teen suicides. A poll from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national organization, found that 1 in 6 teens have been a victim of cyber-bullying at local schools. The effects of this can be devastating because they have far reaching impact in that the bullying can electronically continue around the clock. Many kids are reluctant to tell their parents or teachers about this because of the social stigma associated with it. Many also fear they might lose computer privileges at home.

Fight Crime has put of the following signs to look for to assist in identifying cyber-bullying:

  • Upset after using internet or cell phone
  • Withdraw from friends and activities
  • Mood and behavioral changes
  • Avoidance of school and school activities
  • Slipping grades, loss of motivation
  • Protective of their digital identities and cell phone

Warning signs should be taken seriously and not seen as “just doing it for attention.” Most teenagers who have attempted suicide will usually exhibit one of more of these warning signs. One of the best approaches to preventing teen suicide is to watch and listen. Keep a close eye on a teen showing signs of depression. A depressed teen can show depression through fights with others or withdrawing from society. Not all high-risk teens exhibit depression or feelings of unworthiness through crying and sadness. Suicide also usually occurs after a stressful life event: a breakup, problem at school, death of a loved one, or major family conflict.

Communication and support is critical in preventing teen suicide. Talk to your teen, and listen to what he or she says. Do not downplay his or her concerns. Seek help from others if your teen does not feel comfortable working with school counselors or healthcare professionals. Do not be reluctant to bring up the subject of suicide with your teen. Talk to them about it, even if it is difficult, because it will show them that you care and are aware.

According to the CDC, 60% of teen suicides are committed by a handgun. Parents should consider not keeping a gun in the house if they have a troubled teen or, at the very least, keeping the gun in an undisclosed location at home, under lock and key. Overdose from over-the-counter-medications, prescriptions, and illegal drugs are some of the leading ways teens attempt suicide. At home, monitor all over-the-counter and prescription medications, as teens will attempt to trade them for more powerful drugs.

The key to preventing teen suicide is knowing when to get help. If a teen is talking specifically about suicide, seek immediate help. Parents can seek the help of a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist at a local hospital. For urgent care, call 1-800-suicide or 1-800-999-9999. In an emergency situation, stronger measures may need to be taken to protect the teen, including calling local authorities.

The subject of teen suicide should no longer be avoided; not confronting it will only make the problem worse. Teens should look out for each other and seek help if a friend or classmate is showing warning signs. The entire community should be involved, by sending out the message that there is no stigma in being depressed, sad, lonely, broken, and that support is there for all who need it. Vigilance, love, and understanding will go a long way in reaching these teens.

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