The death of a young person is always tragic. And when a youth decides to take his/her own life, the affects on family, friends and community left behind can be devastating. Talking about and dealing with suicide can often be difficult, but teen suicide is a topic too serious to be ignored. Learning about the risk factors and what can lead to suicidal ideation may help parents and professionals take action and help a teen that is struggling.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, accounting for 18 percent of deaths in this age group. According to recent studies by the Journal of the American Medical Assn., these numbers represent an all time high. In 2017 5,016 males and 1225 females ages 15 to 24 died by suicide.
The reasons a youth may become suicidal can be complex. Teens often struggle with transitioning from childhood to young adulthood, or from elementary to junior and high school. It’s a time of growth, change, and expression that can be exciting but also confusing. Pressures to fit in socially and succeed academically are only exacerbated by the use of technology and social media. All these elements together can feel overwhelming to a young person or make them feel that suicide is the “only way out.”
Although most youth experience a certain amount of ‘teen angst,’ it’s important to know the factors that can place some teens at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Youth with mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder may be more likely to attempt suicide. Other factors include:
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• A major life change (parents divorce, moving, financial situation, etc.)
• Being a victim of bullying
• Family history of suicide
• A previous suicide attempt
• Some sort of trauma (physical, sexual or emotional abuse)
• A lack of a support from family, friends or community
• Feelings of isolation
In addition to identifying teens that may be at higher risk of suicide, there are signs to look for that may indicate that a youth is considering suicide, including;
• Talking about death
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Talk of “not being around anymore”
• Isolating from family and friends
• Giving away possessions
• Changes in sleeping or eating habits
• Engaging in risky behaviors
• Losing interest in things the teen used to enjoy
So, what can parents, family and friends do if they feel like a youth in their life is considering suicide? Know the risk factors, look for warning signs and above all, communicate.
Many teens who may be considering suicide will give some sort of warning in an attempt to reach out for help. Take your teen seriously. Any sign that a youth may be struggling with suicidal ideation is worth taking action. Any of the following or similar statements made by a teen should be considered a red flag;
• “Nothing matters.”
• “I wonder if anyone would come to my funeral.”
• “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up.”
• “Everything would be better if I wasn’t around.”
• “You won’t have to deal with me for much longer.”
Try to react to statements like these by being nonjudgmental. Really listen and hear what the youth is saying even if it’s uncomfortable. Don’t shut down the conversation, instead encourage the youth to continue sharing. Let the teen know you care and are willing to listen. Be reassuring without minimizing their feelings and don’t hesitate to seek professional help right away.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, here are some important numbers you can use to get help.
Casa Pacifica SAFTY Hotline (for Santa Barbara County): (888) 334-2777
Crisis Text Line: 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255