Be the solution for teens in crises
Teens are under enormous pressure to succeed both academically and socially. Social media also heightens feelings of inadequacy by making everything and everyone seem perfect, and trying to live up to these high standards can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Once a person feels overwhelmed or without hope, it’s crucial for them to get the help they need, and fast. Thinking that they’ll just get over it eventually and waiting for the crises to pass is not the solution.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 5 to 24. They found that “suicide attempts may be associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss.” To put a stop to these feelings, some teens feel that suicide may be the only option.
As reported in the 2018 article “Teen suicide is soaring. Do spotty mental health and addiction treatment share blame?” by Jayne O’Donnell and Anne Saker in USA TODAY, “The suicide rate for white children and teens between 10 and 17 was up 70% between 2006 and 2016, the latest data analysis available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although black children and teens kill themselves less often than white youth do, the rate of increase was higher — 77%.”
There are things that can be done to prevent these tragedies, but quick intervention is key. Knowing about the causes, signs and risk factors can save lives.
Suicide rates are actually on the rise in the US, despite the myriad of resources available for help. “Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”
While speaking about suicide, it’s important to note the differences surrounding this topic. The National Institute of Mental Health breaks them down into three types:
• Suicide – death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior.
• A suicide attempt – a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury.
• Suicidal ideation – thinking about, considering, or planning suicide.
Parents, caregivers, teachers and others who deal with teenagers should be on the lookout for signs that a teen is at risk for suicide. Some of these may include withdrawing from friends and family as well as activities that they used to enjoy. A decline in school grades, giving away beloved possessions, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and a more than passing interest in death and dying are other possible indicators. Some teens may even directly express their wishes such as saying “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”
Other risk factors to take into account are if the teenager is a victim of bullying, has a family history of mental illness or suicide, has access to firearms, and/or is exposed to violence.
As stressed by the AACAP, speaking to teens about depression and suicide is critical. People shouldn’t fear that bringing it up will put the possibility into the person’s head and therefore lead to its occurrence. Some of the questions they recommend asking are:
• Are you feeling sad or depressed?
• Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
• Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, the teen needs immediate help and encouragement to speak with someone they feel comfortable with, be it a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or clergy person. In addition, they should call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone and all calls are confidential. In Virginia, they can also go to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at https://www.sprc.org/states/virginia for a list of people and agencies that can assist.
Help is available. With the right knowledge, awareness, and interventions, teen suicides can be prevented.
Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA