Teen suicide is a difficult and painful subject to discuss, but the statistics are alarming and parents need to be aware of the dangers.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10-to 24-year-olds according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 25 attempts are made for every completed teen suicide. Females attempt suicide three times more often than males, although males are more likely to die as a result of their attempts.
The teenage years are an especially difficult time, as adolescents experience new academic, emotional and social situations. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, confusion and self-doubt, all of which can result in depression and despair.
If a teen is depressed or contemplating suicide, it does not mean there isn’t hope. He or she is in a dark place and needs help finding the light again. Research has shown that some 90 percent of the people who commit suicide have depression or another diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder. Suicide and depression can be prevented or treated with the help of qualified mental health professionals.
By observing changes in behavior, listening carefully to our teens and watching for the following warning signs, we can work together to help prevent teenage suicide.
Some warning signs include:
• change in eating or sleeping habits;
• withdrawal from friends and family;
• rebellious behavior;
• drug/alcohol use and abuse;
• neglect in personal appearance;
• difficulty concentrating;
• decline in quality of school work;
• marked personality changes;
• frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions — stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.;
• not tolerating praise or rewards;
• Saying phrases such as “I want to kill myself,” “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” “nothing matters”; and
• putting affairs in order — giving away favorite possessions, cleaning his/her room, throwing away important belongings.
While depression and suicide are tough to discuss, it is important to keep the lines of communication open with teens. By acknowledging the issues and talking about concerns, adolescents know that you care. These conversations also help you to be more aware of how your child is adjusting to new changes and demands in their life and may alert you to any possible problems.
In addition, an overwhelming majority of young people who hear a suicide threat don’t report it. No threat should be taken as a joke. Remember to inform your teen of what they should do if they are worried about a friend. Most importantly, stress that telling an adult that their friend needs help is never a betrayal of trust, instead it’s courageous and may save their friend’s life.
If you sense or encounter a seriously depressed or suicidal individual, stay calm listen to their concerns, provide unconditional support, and seek help from a qualified mental health professional.
With teenage suicide on the rise, it is important for concerned adults to be aware of the warning signs, to keep the lines of communication open, and to seek necessary attention if they are worried about a loved one.
Marisa Brown is president of the Jana Marie Foundation in State College. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg- Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.