Preventing Teen Suicide

In last week’s blog, we talked about Teen Depression.  This week we’re picking that thread back up and following it to its extreme. Teen suicide is a serious problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. It is estimated that 500,000 teens attempt suicide every year with 5,000 succeeding. These are epidemic numbers.

Suicide is an act of desperation and teen depression or another psychological disorder is often the root cause. In depressed teens who also abuse alcohol or drugs, the risk of suicide is even greater.

Suicide Warnings Signs In Teenagers

  • Expressing hopelessness for the future and indicating that no one else cares about them.
  • Talking or joking about committing suicide.
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”).
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide.
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or sudden changes in personality. This could include:
    • having a lot of accidents resulting in injury or driving recklessly
    • starting to use/abuse drugs or alcohol to aid sleep or for relief from their mental anguish
    • good students that suddenly ignore homework, cut classes, or drop grades
    • suddenly start having unprotected and/or promiscuous sex
    • showing signs of an eating disorder
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good.
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves.

How Teens Can Help Their Friends

If you know another teen that you suspect might be thinking about killing themselves, don’t ignore it. Either tell a responsible adult (parents, teacher, coach, guidance counselor, clergy, etc.) or talk to your friend. Just talking can make a big difference. Teens will often share secrets and feelings with other teens that they will not share with adults. You can ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. Talking about suicide or suicidal thoughts will not push someone to kill him- or herself. It is also not true that people who talk about killing themselves will not actually try it. If a friend says that he or she is thinking about killing him- or herself, take your friend seriously.  When you talk to them, be sure to be honest and don’t pretend you have all the answers. Never promise to keep someone’s intention to kill or hurt him- or herself a secret. The most important thing you can do is to tell a responsible adult.

How Parents Can Help Their Teenage Child

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you do not remain silent if you suspect that your teenager might be thinking about suicide. You must act quickly to prevent a tragedy.  AAP suggests:

  • Ask your teenager about it. Don’t be afraid to say the word “suicide.” Getting the word out in the open may help your teenager think someone has heard his cries for help.
  • Reassure him that you love him. Remind him that no matter how awful his problems seem, they can be worked out, and you are willing to help.
  • Ask her to talk about her feelings. Listen carefully. Do not dismiss her problems or get angry at her. It’s important not to minimize or discount what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.
  • Remove all lethal weapons from your home, including guns, pills, kitchen utensils and ropes.
  • Seek professional help. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or your local hospital’s department of psychiatry can provide a list of doctors in your area. Your local mental health association or county medical society can also provide references. In an emergency, you can call (800) SUICIDE or (800) 999-9999.

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