Suicide affects many families across the U.S. each year, and unfortunately it has a long reach; far from being a serious problem only for adults, it’s actually the third leading cause of death for people aged 10-24. According to the Center for Disease Control, around 4,600 young people die each year from suicide.
Although the reasons vary greatly, death by suicide is likely common among youths because they don’t have the emotional capacity to cope with trauma, such as bullying, sexual abuse, the loss of a loved one, grappling with their sexuality, or relationship troubles. There are other factors to take into consideration, such as undiagnosed mood disorders–including depression–and the fact that the teenage years are a roller coaster of emotion. Young people must deal with pressures at school, from friends, and in their own relationships with their parents as they struggle to find independence, and it can all take a toll on the mental state.
Some of the warning signs of suicidal thoughts are:
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness
- Exposure to the suicide of others
- Sudden social isolation from friends and family
- A sudden drop in grades or lack of interest in school
- History of abuse
- Signs of substance abuse
- Sudden, negative change in behavior
- Being the victim of bullying
- Exhibiting risky behavior
It’s important to remember that blame plays no part in helping someone who is suicidal. Often, the individual is simply thinking about easing their pain and can’t see past it; they may have a point of view that is outside your understanding, and that’s okay. If you talk to a young person who is having these thoughts, don’t accuse or use words like “selfish”. Let them know you’re there for them and that any problem can be worked on, but suicide is final.
Big life changes can have a significant effect on young people, so everything from divorce to a move to a breakup with a longtime friend can leave a person feeling depressed or anxious. One of the best ways to prevent suicidal thoughts is to step in early at the first signs of an event that might trigger emotions and let them know you care. If you’re a parent, showing your child that you take them seriously is extremely important. Keep up communication with your teen and show an interest in their hobbies, friends, and who they connect with on social media. Knowing the people your child spends time with can be immensely helpful in keeping them safe and happy.
If you suspect substance abuse, don’t be afraid to speak to them openly about it. If indeed there is a problem, sit down with your teen and work out a way to solve it together. There are many places willing to help–rehabilitation centers, therapists, and healthcare providers are all a great start–and it’s important to begin treatment early.
Finally, if you suspect your loved one is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate: call 911 or a local suicide hotline. Ensure that there are no weapons within range or anything that might be used for self-harm and never leave the individual alone.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealt