Spotlight: teen suicide
By JESSICA LUTGENS
In the state of Minnesota, suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens; in the United States, it’s the third leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In southern Minnesota alone, there have been six teen suicides this summer, and thousands of teens across America commit suicide every year. What is causing this? What can we do to prevent it?
Suicide is not a subject to be taken lightly, and although people of all ages do it, it’s most commonly attempted by those aged 15-24 years old. Teenagers have many stressors in their lives, including school, sports/extracurricular activities, friends, family, their appearance, cliques, jobs, trying to fit in, the pressure to excel in whatever they do and the fear of failing and disappointing not only themselves, but those close to them.
Combine that with the hormones that come with adolescence which make it even harder to handle all of the emotions that come with being a teenager. The result can be a feeling of hopelessness and having nowhere to turn to deal with your problems.
One of the biggest problems is that adults don’t take teenagers’ problems very seriously; they tend to view them as “phases” or petty problems that will just go away — but that’s not always the case. One of the biggest things you can do to prevent suicide is to make sure the person knows you care, you’re there for them, and you’ll support them no matter what.
Statistics can tell us a lot about the subject. For instance, girls are twice as more likely to attempt suicide than boys, but boys die from suicide about four times more than girls.
This is because for girls, attempting suicide is more of a cry for help, whereas boys don’t allow time for intervention and use more lethal methods. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that for every one suicide that is completed, 25 more are attempted.
One of the most important things to know is that a suicide attempt should always be taken seriously. Even if they think they don’t want help at the time, most people who have survived suicide attempts are glad that they were saved and able to get the help they needed to enjoy life again.
In recent years, many suicides that have been attempted or committed are a result of bullying, and in most cases, that bullying was because of the victim’s sexual orientation. Bullying is a topic that has become very prominent in the public eye lately, and although efforts are being made to prevent it, it continues to be a daily problem for many teens. It’s so important to remember that what you say or do to a person can have extreme effects, both mentally and physically. Parents, one of the biggest things to teach your children is never to bully others, no matter what. As for children, teens, and even adults: bullying someone, even if it doesn’t seem like it, is never okay and should never be done. By doing your best to be nice to everyone, even if you don’t agree with something about them, you can help in preventing one of the nation’s biggest killers: suicide.
Knowing the warning signs of suicide is one of the biggest steps in preventing it; four out of five suicide attempts have been preceded by clear warning signs, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Many of these signs are also symptoms of depression or another psychological disorder, and approximately 95 percent of people who die by suicide have a psychological disorder at the time of death. If a teen does have an underlying psychological problem, finding and treating it can also help with prevention. It’s important to notice how often signs appear; a pattern can indicate a serious problem. Warning signs include: disinterest in favorite extracurricular activities, problems at work/losing interest in a job, substance abuse, behavioral problems, withdrawing from family and friends, sleep changes, change in eating habits, neglecting hygiene and personal appearance, emotional distress bringing on physical pain (fatigue, aches, migraines), hard time concentrating or paying attention, declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, risk-taking behaviors, more frequent complaints of boredom, doesn’t respond as before to praise, aggressive/disruptive behavior, and depression.
It’s also important to remember that any teen is at risk for suicide, and not all of these signs have to be present for them to be contemplating it. Good students, poor students, shy people, popular people— it could happen to anyone, which is why knowing all the signs and being sure to watch for them is essential.
There are also signs that indicate that a person may have a suicide plan: the person actually saying, “I want to kill myself,” or, “I don’t want to be here any more,” verbal hints — phrases like, “I want you to know something, in case something happens to me,” or “I won’t trouble you any more,” giving away favorite belongings or promising them to friends and family, throwing away important possessions, signs of extreme cheerfulness following periods of depression, creating suicide notes, or expressing bizarre/unsettling thoughts on occasion.
Other than knowing the warning signs, there are other actions that can be taken in order to prevent teen suicide. Nearly 60 percent of teen suicides in the United States are committed with a gun, so keeping all firearms unloaded, locked, and out of reach of children and teens is very important. Another common form of suicide is overdosing on over-the-counter, prescription, and non-prescription pills. It’s important to carefully monitor all medications in your home.
Nearly every teenager has had suicidal thoughts at some point. It’s figuring out whether or not they’re going to act on these thoughts that is the difficult part. Suicide affects so many more people than just the victim, which is why preventing it is so crucial. Any life lost is a tragedy, but knowing that a person felt the need to take their own life puts guilt and confusion in the minds of those close to the victim, as well. The biggest thing to remember is to always let the person know they have your support and unconditional love, whether they are thinking of attempting suicide or have already attempted it.
There are many suicide prevention organizations out there for those who are thinking of committing suicide, have survived an attempt, or know someone who has fallen victim to it. Just a few of them include: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org), Yellow Ribbon (www.yellowribbon.org), SPAN USA or Suicide Prevention Action Network (www.spanusa.org), Suicide Prevention Resource Center (www.sprc.org), and the Hotline for Suicidal Crisis (1-800-SUICIDE). Nobody should ever have to feel the need to take their own life, and with the support of others, we can help bring down the numbers of teens who commit suicide and ultimately save many lives. After all, suicide really is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, even if it seems like things won’t get better — they will.