“It’s just a phase” – we often hear this from parents or guardians of teenagers or high school students. This is probably because their kids are in the stage where they are experiencing physical and mental changes.
While it seems natural for young people to go through a “rebellious phase”, it’s important that you pay close attention to any change in their behavior, personality, routines, or patterns. Extreme emotional sensitivity and isolation by choice, per se, could be early signs of suicidal ideation.
Statistics on Teen Suicide
It’s alarming that suicide rates, especially among teenagers, keep rising. In fact, according to the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24.
The 2011 Youth Risk and Behavior Survey shows that there’s only a small percentage (2.4%) of youth suicide that leads to medical interventions. The study also shows, however, that 15.8% of teenagers seriously consider suicide as an option – this alone is worrisome.
During the peak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic where most states and countries implemented total lockdowns, national suicide prevention lifelines and crisis hotlines have recorded a huge spike in calls from people reaching out for mental health assistance. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for instance, saw an 891% increase in calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019.
Suicidal Thought Triggers
In most cases, suicidal thoughts start with a single rejection, small frustration, simple failure, temporary heartache, or mild anxiety. The thing is, the more teenagers suppress these emotions, the more they pile up, leading to a sudden breakdown sooner or later.
Depression and suicide are often linked to one another. Though depression, together with several other mental health disorders or illnesses, is one of the riskiest factors of suicide attempts, it’s not the only trigger. Not all depressed teenagers commit suicide and not everyone who commits suicide is depressed.
Other risk factors of teenage suicide include:
- Alcohol and/or substance abuse.
- History of trauma or abuse.
- Low self-esteem.
- Impulsive behaviors.
- Peer pressure.
- Firearms or weapons in the household.
- Previous suicide attempts.
- Exposure to the suicide of someone close to them.
The suicide rate due to discrimination and bullying (or cyberbullying) is also shockingly high. Almost 50% of the LGBTQ+ youth consider suicide and 40% actually made plans on how to do it.
In general, teenagers commit suicide due to emotional and environmental triggers. They often perceive suicide as an escape plan for their hopelessness and helplessness. They see suicide as an easy way out from any intolerable or unbearable situation they think they’re trapped in.
Red Flags A Teen Is Suicidal
Jonathan Singer, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago and president of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), emphasizes that we should always take seriously any signs of suicidal behavior.
Any change of behaviors or change in routines, hobbies, and habits of your kids should never be taken lightly. Be mindful of these red flags and warning signs of suicide.
- Significant weight loss/gain.
- Abnormal sleeping patterns.
- Increase in alcohol or drug use.
- Easily irritated.
- Fatigue or loss of energy.
- Extreme mood swings.
- Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities.
- Reckless behaviors.
- Indecisiveness or impaired concentration.
- Self-harm behaviors or self-destructive actions.
- Feelings of worthlessness.
- Social withdrawal.
- Acquiring weapons or researching suicide methods.
- Suicide-related statements or questions.
Teen Suicide Prevention
As cliche as it may sound, prevention is indeed better than cure. This is specifically true when it comes to teen suicide. After all, it’s not just your child’s well-being but it’s your child’s life that’s at stake.
In most cases, parents don’t know their kids are at risk for suicide until it’s too late. This is because they often take the warning signs as teen melodrama or rebellion – something that’s going to pass.
Merely paying close attention to your kids’ actions and statements can go a long way in saving them and preventing teen suicide. Make an effort to be part of your kids’ lives as much as you can. Monitor and track their activities, whether in the real world or the virtual world. Be mindful, be attentive.
Suicidal teens usually don’t share their true feelings; they prefer to keep everything within themselves. Some teens might want to reach out but they don’t know how to express or explain themselves that they end up fighting their battles alone.
As the adults of the house, initiate open and positive conversations with your teens. Encourage them to share their struggles with you. Make them feel safe by reassuring them that their emotions are valid and that you’re always there to listen to them.
Most kids prefer spending their time on social media sites than outdoors, leading to inactive and unhealthy lifestyles. Isolation is one common driver of teen suicide so be sure your kids have established productive routines.
Routines promote certainty and stability, making these vital in every person’s lifestyle – kids and adults alike. Hence, encourage your teens to spend some quality time with their support groups. As they say “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”; initiate fun and interesting activities.
Store Possible Materials
Teens who are seriously considering suicide tend to start researching ways how to execute it, including possible weapons or materials to be used. They then start drafting their plans, detailing everything from the suicide letter to the means or methods.
If there’s already suicide ideation, having easy access to means can greatly contribute to making it happen. Hence, you can prevent suicide by safely storing possible materials or weapons such as firearms, alcohol, and drugs.
If all else fails, be sure to reach out to the proper authorities. If you think the situation is already beyond your control, immediately call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255), or your local suicide hotline number.
You could also coordinate with mental health services providers for proper rehabilitation and treatment. If and when you commit your teens to undergo such treatments, be 100% supportive. Constantly reassure them that you’ll be by their side all the way and that everything’s going to be okay.
Teens who consider, attempt, or commit suicide don’t merely desire to die. You have to understand that for them, this is the only option left to get rid of unbearable emotions or escape from intolerable situations. Moreover, suicide is usually not triggered by impulse; rather, it’s often premeditated. So, do what you can to stay actively involved in your teen’s life to prevent suicide.