With early intervention suicide can be prevented
You Can Help.
Unfortunately there have been a number of tragic teen suicides in our mountain communities over the past few years. Through these years I have seen and heard the deep sorrow and incalculable pain of suicide on the faces and in the voices of clients who have lost friends and loved ones who have killed themselves. While it is easy to think we have had more than our share of these tragedies, actually youth suicide is a significant problem throughout the nation.
Here are some startling statistics from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, Inc.
They scream for us all to be informed and on the alert to prevent suicide by our young people:
- Every year there are approximately 10 youth suicides for every 100,000 youth
- Every day there are approximately 11 youth suicides.
- Every 2 hours and 11 minutes a person under the age of 25 completes suicide.
National data tells us:
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens.
- Suicide is second leading cause of death in colleges.
- For every suicide completion, there are between 50 and 200 attempts.
- CDC Youth Risk Survey: 8.5% of students in grades 9-12 reported a suicide attempt in the past year.
- 25% of high-school students report suicide ideation.
- The suicide attempt rate is increasing for youths ages 10-14.
- Suicide had the same risk and protective factors as other problem behaviors, such as drugs, violence, and risky sexual activities.
While each single suicide is a tragedy, it is estimated that for every adolescent who completes suicide, there are between 50 and 200 suicide attempts.
A recent survey of high-school students found that almost 1 in 5 had seriously considered suicide; more than 1 in 6 had made plans to attempt suicide; and more than 1 in 12 had made a suicide attempt in the past year.
While our community is not alone in facing this threat, only we can do what needs to be done to change the picture for our youth. Fortunately we can make a difference.
Through concerted community-wide educational efforts some suicide rates are actually beginning to fall. Below is a summary of what the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and other authoritative sources tell us to we must look out for . Then I’ll share suggestions for what you can do to take action when concerns of suicide arise.
Common warning signs for suicide:
- Any statement of suicidal intent, i.e. “I feel like killing myself.” I wish I were dead.”
- Comments about suicidal thoughts, i.e. “I’ve been think about just doing myself in.”
- Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, or drawing.
- Giving away belongings.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Aggressive or hostile behavior.
- Neglecting personal appearance.
- Running away from home.
- Dramatic change in personality such as from upbeat to quiet.
- Isolating oneself from others and keeping thoughts to oneself.
- Engaging in risk-taking behavior, such as reckless driving, abusing drugs or alcohol, sexual promiscuity.
Acts if self-harming acts such as cutting, scratching, or other acts of self-harm A change in appetite or sleep habits. Previous suicide attempts
Conditions that may make a youth vulnerable:
- A parent with depression or substance abuse problems.
- A friend, peer, family member, or hero (such as a sports figure or musician) who recently attempted or committed suicide. •
- Disruptive or abusive family life. •
- Sexual abuse.
- Depression or another mental health problems evidenced by:
The kind of events that may trigger a teen suicide:
- A romantic break up.
- Unrelenting or especially humiliating bullying, teasing, etc.
- Possession or purchase of a weapon, pills, or other means of inflicting self-harm.
- Drug or alcohol use (because they deepen unpleasant feelings and diminish one’s ability to think clearly).
- Witnessing the suicide of a family member.
- Problems at school, such as failing grades, disruptive behavior, or frequent absences.
- Loss of a parent or close family member through death or divorce, especially if the loss is sudden, unexpected, or traumatic.
- Legal or discipline problems.
- Stress caused by physical changes related to puberty, chronic illness, or sexually transmitted diseases. •
- Uncertainty surrounding sexual orientation (such as bisexuality or homosexuality).
One other thing to consider is this FDA advisory: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide (especially in teens and children). The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched carefully for warning signs of suicide. This is especially important at the beginning of treatment or when doses are changed.
What you can do.
From working with so many young people over the past few years who have had to endure the agony of losing a friend or family member, there are several things I want everyone in our community to know and take an active role in doing:
1. Know and keep the signs of suicide forefront in your mind. Keep an eye out for any teens in your life who are facing circumstances or problems that could make them vulnerable to suicide.
2. When someone threatens or talks about suicide take it seriously. It may not be meant seriously or even not be said in a serious tone, but it must always be taken as serious because the price of being wrong is too high.
3. Get help for the person and/or tell someone who can. Take this action quickly. Right away. It might be too late to wait until school is out or until the next morning. Meanwhile do what you can to make sure the person is not alone until help is available.
4. If a teen is threatening to kill him or herself unless you or someone you know gets back together or do something else to show that you care about them, do not cave into their demands. It is not helpful to give in to someone who threatens suicide if you don’t do what they ask. Neither you nor the friend/loved-one will be happy in a relationship that continues based on emotional blackmail. He or she will still be at risk for self-harm because the underlying problems will not have been addressed. It is likely that the same scenario will repeat itself again and again. Instead take the threat of suicide seriously, not by giving in, but by doing what you need to do to get help for them so that he or she can develop the ability to enjoy a healthy non-threatening relationship. If you or someone has a history of giving into to demands due to fear suicide is imminent, that person should get professional help too before a next crisis arises.
5. Sadly too often there are no obvious signs of suicide. A teen many seem to be fine, even happy, when you saw or talked to them last, but if an attempt was made, clearly they were not fine at that time. Usually the person is suffering from depression or having to handle something that is too painful for the limits of their coping abilities.
2/3 of those who commit suicide have never received mental health services (Wagner, Barry M., Suicidal Behavior in Children and Adolescents, Yale University Press, 2009).
This is why a program like local psychologist Shelia Clark’s Teen Screen program is so important. This private, confidential non-threatening health screening interview can identify young people who are depressed or otherwise suffering mentally or emotionally but not in a way obvious to others. Those who are identified as vulnerable can be connected to with the help they need for early intervention.
6. I also hope that a compassionate, accepting culture can be developed among teachers, parents other adults, our spiritual leaders and young people themselves that getting help for emotional and psychological concerns is a normal, positive action, not something to shunned, laugh at, teased about or put down. Until that happens too many of our tweens and teens will feel they cannot reach out. They may not even want to share their deepest fears and most frightening thoughts with those who are close those to them. So we all need to view getting help for mental health problems as no different from going to the doctor when we have a physical ailment that needs treatment. We can adopt this attitude ourselves and also look for opportunities to open the minds of others who have yet to understand.
7. Finally, sadly not every suicide can be prevented, but by taking these positive actions, some can be. If you have taken these actions and a suicide occurs, please do not blame yourself or others who did what they could. Experiencing a suicide or attempted suicide of someone you care about is a tragic loss and a highly emotional and traumatic event Please get whatever help you need to get through the grief and the pain.
If you have other questions or concerns about teen suicide, contact me.