Let’s Talk About Teen Suicide and Prevention

Although mental health issues in general have a stigma attached to them by a large part of society, the topic of suicide makes people uncomfortable by its mere mention, yet addressing it is one of the keys to reducing both suicidal attempts and deaths.

Caveat: This article is informational in nature and not intended to take the place of mental and/or general health diagnosis or recommendations.

“13 Reasons Why” Opens the Dialogue on Youth Suicide

With suicide as the second-leading cause of death worldwide in young people aged 15-years-old to 29-years-old, conversations about suicide and its prevention are always appropriate, but the recent airing of the series, “13 Reasons Why” has brought the topic so often avoided to the forefront. The series, which began airing on Netflix on March 30, 2017, is the adaptation of Jay Asher’s award-winning 2007 novel by the same name in which a teenage young woman explains the 13 reasons why she committed suicide through a series of tapes she recorded and had been distributed after her death.

If you are experiencing a crisis, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or Text “START” to 741741

The Netflix series has been the cause of concern in a number of countries and is eliciting responses and concerns from governmental officials to school authorities, mental health professionals and parents. The National Association of School Psychologists has provided a lengthy release addressing the issue of youth suicide, including not only how school psychologists and counselors can address suicide and at-risk youth in the schools but also providing links to helpful resources for anyone concerned.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Adolescent Suicide

It’s important to realize that, in general, suicidal thoughts do not have a sudden onset but are usually the results of a combination of stressful events or issues that develop over time. It’s important to remember that each person is an individual, so no one set of risks or prevention strategies will fit every circumstance. Seek help from a mental health professional if you have concerns about yourself or someone you know who may be suicidal.

  • Aggression and fighting: New research points to the relationship between interpersonal violence and suicide among all ethnic groups, both sexes and in all living areas, from urban to rural.
  • Previous suicide attempts: Those who have tried to commit suicide in the past are eight times more likely than others to make more attempts.
  • Home Environment: Risk of suicide is higher for adolescents who live in homes where there is repeated violence or ongoing conflict; lack of parental support or feelings of alienation from or within the family.
  • In the community: Youth who are exposed to high levels of violence within the community show a higher risk of self-destructive behaviors than other youth. Lack of adult guidance and support within the community is also a factor.
  • At school: Youth who feel their teachers do not care about or understand them or have poor peer support are at increased risk for suicidal behavior.
  • Cultural impact: Youth who find themselves outside the norm of their environment, whether due to economic factors, sexual identity, ethnicity, or any other number of factors can feel isolated and are more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts.
  • Family history: A family history of mental illness or suicide places the youth at greater risk for suicide than other individuals without a similar history.
  • Situational Crises: Almost half of all youth suicides are associated with a precipitating event such as a parental divorce, sexual abuse, death of a loved one, or loss of an important relationship. While these suicides seem to happen due to such a single event, there are other risk factors involved that may or may not have been recognized.
  • Self-Harm: Any individual exhibiting self-harming or self-mutilation should be referred for a mental health evaluation to determine any underlying issues, but may not necessarily be a sign of suicidal thoughts. Do not pass judgment on the individual, but provide a supportive and open environment for communication.
  • Specific behaviors a person contemplating suicide may exhibit: Threats of suicide, from the direct to the indirect, such as “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up.” The thoughts may be expressed verbally or in writing, often in online postings; emotional distress; giving away prized possessions to others; changes in behavior, appearance or feelings; a preoccupation with death.

If you are experiencing a crisis, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or Text “START” to 741741

How Youth and Families Can Help to Prevent Suicides

So often those who have suicidal thoughts feel isolated from others, thinking that no one cares or understands them. The simple act of opening a conversation with someone and listening to what that person has to say without passing judgment can make a positive difference.

  • Become aware of the myths associated with suicide: Talking about suicide does not increase the risk of suicide, but offers an opportunity for dialogue and seeking assistance if help is needed; it is also a myth that people who talk about suicide aren’t serious about it – the opposite is true.
  • If someone you are talking to admits they are thinking about suicide, reassure them that you care able his/her well-being; do not leave the person alone; remove any objects with which the person could harm him/her self; students should get help by telling an adult such as teacher or parent; parents should seek the assistance of a school or community mental health professional.
  • If you are experiencing a crisis, or someone you know is, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text “START” to 741741. This is a free national mental health hotline available 24 hours/day that will route you to a local crisis center.
  • Parents should become familiar with the risk factors and warning signs of emotional distress and/or suicide and open conversations with their adolescent. If there is concern the youth may be considering suicide, openly ask him/her if this is true. Now you’ve created an opportunity to address your concern and give your child a chance for open communication.
  • Be involved in your child’s life, listening without judgment to their concerns.
  • Adolescents can talk to their friends to find out how they really feel, showing concern and consideration for the other person.
  • Youth who are concerned about a friend or acquaintance who is emotionally distressed or has shared suicidal thoughts in any manner should tell a trusted adult about those concerns as soon as possible.

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