Six teen suicides in six months in one school district. Hayden Porter, a 15-year-old freshman at a high school in Ohio,committed suicide. He was the sixth teenager from the school district to kill themselves within the past six months. Three of the suicides occurred in a span of 11 days in January.
Looking at these figures and more one can judge how suicide rates in teens are alarmingly high. However, it has been the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 (following accidents and homicide) for a few decades now. The majority of teen suicides are linked to mental disorders, like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and social issues like bullying, isolation, loneliness, abuse at home or outside. Unsuccessful suicide outnumbers actual suicides. While boys are more likely than girls to commit suicide, teens of both genders and all ages are at risk for suicide.
Why do teens resort to suicide?
Most teens who attempt or die by suicide have a mental health condition. They feel overwhelmed with stress, fear, worry and find it hard to cope with the pressure of being a teen: dealing with rejection, tough home situation, failure, not meeting expectations, breakups, and chaos in the family. They might also resort to suicide when they feel trapped in a social situation that according to them cannot be escaped from, except by death. Bullying is one such trigger that makes the victim feel helpless, hopeless and afraid.
What factors increase the risk of teen suicide?
- Having a psychiatric disorder, including depression
- Loss of or conflict with close friends or family members
- History of physical or sexual abuse or exposure to violence
- Problems with alcohol or drugs
- Physical or medical issues, for example, becoming pregnant or having a sexually transmitted infection
- Being the victim of bullying
- Being uncertain of sexual orientation
- Exposure to the suicide of a family member or friend
- Being adopted and not feeling a sense of belonging
- Family history of mood disorder or suicidal behavior
What are the warning signs of a teenager considering suicide?
- Talking or joking about committing suicide or death
- 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 or sketching/painting pictures about death
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
- Giving away prized possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
- Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves
- Having a history of previous suicide attempts
- A sudden change in opinion about a situation (It doesn't matter if my parents fight anymore; I'll be gone soon.)
- Not reacting to things that bothered them before (Staying quiet or having zero response when being teased or bullied)
- Indulging in reckless behavior that increases their chance of getting hurt (frequent accidents, overdose, being careless when crossing the road)
- Withdrawal from friends and family members
- Trouble in romantic relationships
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Changes in the quality of schoolwork or lower grades
- Rebellious behavior
- Appearing detached ("I don't care anymore.")
- Running away from home
- Changes in eating habits
- Dramatic personality changes
- Changes in appearance (for the worse)
- Sleep disturbances
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Having mood swings
- Self-destructive things (hurting oneself, enjoying physical pain)
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated (when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above)
Who is more susceptible?
- Perfectionist personalities
- Gay and Lesbian youth
- Learning disabled youth
- Youth with low self-esteem
- Depressed youth
- Bullied or socially isolated youth
- Students in serious trouble
- Abused, molested or neglected Youth
- Genetic predisposition
- Teens having a parental history of violence, substance abuse, or divorce
Irrespective of the specific situation, a sense of hopelessness and depression are two common traits that signal suicidal thoughts.
Signs of depression:
1. Irritable or angry mood: Teens express depression more through irritability than sadness. A depressed teenager may be acting hostile, grumpy, irritable, angry, frustrated, or prone to emotional or angry outbursts.
2. Unexplained aches and pains: Depressed teens, like depressed kids and adults, might have psychosomatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical examination does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
3. Extreme sensitivity to criticism: Teenagers are in a vulnerable phase, where their growing sense of self is uncertain and they're unprepared for all the stimuli, inputs and feedback from the world. Depressed teens have severe issues of low self-esteem and are plagued by feelings of worthlessness. This makes them extremely sensitive and vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. Certain personality types (of the teen or pressurizing parents) are more prone to this, like the over-achievers.
4. Withdrawing from some, but not all people. Unlike adults who isolate themselves completely from others, teens tend to isolate from some groups (like family) and begin to associate with new groups (a new peer group in the neighborhood or school). Hanging out with a different crowd is one way of trying to make sense of their changing world and cope with the stress of it.
What should you do if you suspect your teen is suicidal?
If you suspect your teen is in immediate danger, even if you have no concrete reason to believe so, go with your instinct and call 911, a suicide hotline number, or your local emergency number. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) in the United States; 116 123 in the UK and 116 123 if you are in Ireland.
There's a myth that asking someone about suicide plants the idea in their head. This is NOT true. Talking to them immediately makes a huge difference and don't be afraid to use the word "suicide." Ask your teen to talk about how she or he feels and simply listen. Compassionate listening to their problems, their inner world, their fears, anger, worry can be immensely healing by itself.
Don't dismiss their problems or make them seem small or silly. If it were small or dismissible to them, they wouldn't be considering such a drastic step. Reassure your teen of your love for them and that no matter what it is, she or he can get through it and you would do anything to help. Seek professional help as soon as you realize they contemplated killing themselves once or attempted and failed.
How to prevent depression or fear of bullying/social isolation lead to suicidal thoughts?
1. Focus on listening, not lecturing. Don't miss out on the chance of knowing what's going on in their head and heart by trying to give them your opinion or advice. The best support you can give your child is to listen with complete empathy and respect for their feelings, problems, and concerns.
2. Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if they turn away or shut you out. It is a difficult time for them, so be gentle yet constant in your commitment to support and hear them out.
3. Acknowledge their feelings. Do NOT try to talk your teen out of depression. Stay away from statements like "Things aren't as bad as you think" or "you'll get over it, everyone goes through tough phases at this age." Simply acknowledging their pain and sadness goes a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
4. If you suspect bullying, act immediately. If your child fears to go to school, find out the specific people or situation that makes her/him feel so. Ask them specific questions about the situation and their feelings. Contact the school counselor before you involve parents and other officials.
Let your child know that they are not alone and take immediate action to ensure their immediate environment (including social media and online circles) are safe for your teen. Take steps to ensure that other victims get the same support. The bully (especially a teen bully) needs as much help as the victim.
5. Trust your gut. If your teen refused to open up or share what's bothering them, but you still feel something is off, go with your instinct. Rope in the school counselor, a favorite teacher or mental-health expert. It's okay if they don't talk to you, what's important is that they talk to someone.
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