The Problem of Teen Suicide
The teen years are a time when your child experiences many changes. Although these may seem like some of the happiest years of your child's life, they can also be the most confusing. Overwhelming feelings of stress, sadness, uncertainty, and pressure to succeed are not uncommon during adolescence. These already strong feelings are often intensified by changes in their life such as a move to a different community, a divorce, troubles with school, or a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend. For some, suicide may seem like the only solution to their problems.
Suicide and suicide attempts among teens is a daily occurrence in the United States. Nationally, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10 to 14 year olds. More adolescents die by suicide then by cancer, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. Before completing suicide, many teens have persistent suicidal thoughts and/or make a suicide attempt. According to a school-based survey of 9 th through 12 th graders in Rhode Island, almost 10% of students said that they had actually made a suicide attempt and 17% said that they had given a suicide attempt serious thought.
Recognizing Signs of Suicidal Behavior in Your Teen
The following is a list of suicidal warning signs. Parents should watch their teens for these signs and symptoms, particularly if they last for more than two weeks.
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
- Drug and alcohol use
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Violent actions, unusual defiance, or rebellious behavior
- Inability to concentrate and make decisions
- Periods of boredom or restlessness
- Drop in the quality of schoolwork and/or poor attendance at school
- Frequent complaints of physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and/or extreme fatigue
- Neglect of personal appearance
- Notable personality change
- Threatening or attempting to kill oneself and/or making plans, even jokingly
- Giving away personal, meaningful possessions
A teen that is planning to commit suicide may also complain of being a bad person, feeling rotten inside, and give verbal hints such as:
- I won't be a problem for you much longer
- Nothing matters
- It's no use
- I won't see you again
- Things would be better if I had never been born
How to Help a Suicidal Teen
If you are worried about your teen and suspect that he or she may be struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts, the following strategies may be helpful:
- Ask your teen questions about issues that may be bothering them. Really listen to what they have to say. Remember that their issues, no matter how minor they may seem to you, may be overwhelming your adolescent. Never make fun of or disregard your teenager's concerns, especially if they are making him or her unhappy.
- Always take verbal threats or hints seriously. Don't be afraid to talk to your teen directly about suicide. If you are concerned, asking your adolescent if he or she is thinking about suicide may be helpful. You will not put thoughts of suicide in your child's head just by asking about it. Instead, asking such a question will give him or her reassurance that someone cares about how they are feeling.
- Ninety-percent of teenagers who die by suicide have a mental health problem, usually depression and/or substance abuse. If your teen is showing signs of mental illness, get help for him or her right away. A professional evaluation can be very beneficial. Your child needs to have his or her illness recognized and diagnosed so the appropriate treatment plan can be developed. If your teen is depressed, they need to feel that there is hope and that things will get better.
Dealing with the topic of suicide is scary for both parents and children. The most important thing you can do as a parent of a suicidal teen is to talk about your concerns. Don't assume that your child's problems will easily go away. Seek out individuals who can help you help your teen. Talk to your teen's primary care provider, school counselor, a trusted teacher, local family or social service agency, and/or clergy. Below are additional resources that can also be of assistance.
- Samaritans of Rhode Island, Providence Crisis Hotline 401-272-4044, Toll Free: 800-365-4044
- South Kingston Sympatico Hotline -401-783-0782
- Hope Valley Sympatico Hotline- 401-539-7474
- Girls and Boys Town National Hotline -800-448-3000
- National Hopeline Network - 800-SUICIDE
Additional On-Line Educational and Referral Resources
- Adolescent Health On-Line: www.ama-assn.org/go/adolescenthealth
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: http://www.aacap.org
- American Association of Suicidology: http://www.suicidology.org
- National Mental Health Association: http://www.nmha.org
- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: http://www.save.org/
- National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center: http://www.safeyouth.org/scripts/faq/suicidefacts.php
1 CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, WISQARS: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/default.htm
2 Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids, Violence Related Behaviors Health Risks Among Rhode Island Public High School Students 1997 and 2001, RI Department of Education in Collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Health
3 American Medical Association, Points for Parents About Teens and Depression: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/upload/mm/39/parentinfo.pdf
4 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, AACAP Facts for Families # 10, Teen Suicide: http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/suicide.htm
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