Every 100 minutes a teenager will commit suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 14 and 25 in the United States. Other shocking statistics taken from a recent survey of college and high school students by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) include the fact that 27% of high school students had thought seriously about killing themselves during the past year, and 8% had actually tried to kill themselves. Further, 10% of U.S. college students admitted serious thoughts about suicide and 7% actually had a suicide plan. Statistics also show that kids from high-income families kill themselves as often as those from poor or middle-class families and that for every teenage suicide, there are more than 100 unsuccessful attempts. Even though there are warning signs and preventative measures, “copycat” suicides spread the tragedy even further.
There are several different factors that may lead a teenager to take his or her own life, but the most common is depression. Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, along with feelings of being trapped in a life that one can’t handle, are very real contributors to teen suicide. Other factors are many, and include a divorce of parents, having access to firearms, being bullied or being a bully, previous suicide attempts, violence in the home, substance abuse, feelings of worthlessness, the suicide of a friend or rejection by friends or peers. Further studies tell us that teen girls and boys are both at risk for suicide. Teen girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but teenage boys are 4 – 5 times more likely to die of suicide. Over half of teen suicide deaths are inflicted by guns.
There are some things that teens might do that could indicate they are contemplating suicide. It is important that you are aware of the following signs and use them as starting points to draw your teenager out and perhaps express what is bothering him or her:
- Disinterest in favorite extracurricular activities
- Problems at work and losing interest in a job
- Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug (illegal and legal drugs) use
- Behavioral problems
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Sleep changes
- Changes in eating habits
- Begins to neglect hygiene and other matters of personal appearance
- Emotional distress brings on physical complaints (aches, fatigues, migraines)
- Hard time concentrating and paying attention
- Declining grades in school
- Loss of interest in schoolwork
- Risk taking behaviors
- Complains more frequently of boredom
- Does not respond as before to praise
These signs could even indicate that your child has a plan in place. The signals are a serious call for help. Many will share their thoughts and feelings in a desperate attempt to be acknowledged. There is no doubt that professional interventionists can help in these situations as long as the intervention takes place as soon as possible. Professionals can provide counseling and intervention, including medications, when necessary.
One of the most common misconceptions about talking with someone who might be contemplating suicide is that bringing up the subject may make things worse. This is not true. Bringing up the question of suicide and discussing it without showing shock or disapproval is one of the most helpful things you can do. This openness shows that you are taking the individual seriously and responding to the severity of his or her distress. Other persons that can play a major role in prevention of teenage suicide are community leaders, churches, school personnel and peers. Peers are crucial to suicide prevention. 93% of students report that they would turn to a friend before a teacher, parent or spiritual guide in a time of crisis.
As we can see from the above information and statistics, teenage suicide is a very real problem in the United States. Today children have many pressures and a variety of emotional, social and family issues to confront; many teens find themselves having suicidal thoughts. Pay particular attention to what your children are doing and any signs relating to trouble. Studies show that 4 out of 5 teen suicide attempts have been preceded by clear warning signs. Be sure you know them, keep lines of communication open with your teenagers and seek medical professionals to help with prevention. Professionals can provide counseling and intervention, including medications, when necessary.