Youth Suicide Part 2
Knowing the causes, warning signs, and prevention tips can save lives
by Franklin P. Schargel
Editor’s Note: This is part two in a two-part series
It doesn’t seem right that a young person between the ages of 11 and 19- who has lived for such a short time and has a long life ahead – would choose to die. Look up “teenage suicide’ at google.com and you will find 1,100,000 “hits.” And with good reason:
What Are The Causes?
Depression – A teen that is feeling suicidal may see no other way out of their problems, no other escape from emotional pain or no one to whom they can communicate about how they feel. Depression expresses itself in a variety of ways including changes in appetite; changes in activity level; loss of sleep; lack on interest in activities that normally give pleasure; social withdrawal; and thoughts of death or punishment.
Substance Abuse Problems – Alcohol and some drugs are depressants. Youths who are depressed may take these substances thinking that they will help ease the pain. They make the situation worse. They may limit their ability to assess risk, cloud their judgment, make good choices and think of solutions to their problems.
Teenage Stress – There are many pressures on teenagers – ones that they have never experienced before. These include social, academic, personal, sexuality and relationship pressures. Some teens struggle with weight and eating problems, while others face learning difficulties in school. Getting in trouble in school or with the law and fighting with parents are risk factors for suicide. A traumatic event like a breakup, failing a test, an unintended pregnancy or getting into an accident can bring on suicidal tendencies.
Violence – There is more violence in the newspapers, on television, on electronic games and in the movies. Many children live in increasingly violent neighborhoods. There is increased violence in the homes including familial violence and sexual abuse. And it is easier to get the tools (guns and pills) of suicide. If there is a gun in the home, youths are 5 times more likely to commit suicide than in homes without a gun.
Lack of parental interest – Many children grow up in single-parent households. Others have two working parents. According to one study, 90% of suicidal teenagers believed their families did not understand them.
Data show that families are spending less time together and more of our young people are spending more and more time in front of television screens.
What Are The Warning Signs?
The list below lists the most prevalent causes of youth suicide. The list is not all-inclusive but should assist educators in identifying the most common warning signs. Not all youngsters who exhibit these signs will commit suicide. However, the greater the number of warning signs, the greater the likelihood of suicide predictors.
Youth are most at risk of attempting suicide are those who:
- Made previous suicide attempts
- Talks about committing suicide
- Feels that “it is all my fault”
- Exhibit anger
- Signs of serious depression, moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
- Is a loner.
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Changes in the sleeping or eating habits of the student.
- Cries often.
- Chronic or sudden truancy
- Gives away possessions
- Recent suicide of a loved one or family member
- Preoccupied with death and dying
- Loses interest in their personal appearance
- Turmoil within family (divorce, remarriage, separation, merging of two families)
- Have a family history of suicide
- Have had a recent stressful event or loss in their lives
- Have easy access to lethal methods, especially guns
- Show signs of changes in eating and sleeping habits.
- Exhibit rebellious behavior or running away.
- Have difficulty concentrating or decline in quality of school work
- Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
- Gives verbal hints, such as “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” or “Nothing matters.”
- Conflicts around sexual orientation
- Experienced a romantic break up
- Accessibility of firearms
- Increased pressure to perform, achieve, be responsible
- Taking unnecessary risks
The greater the number of warning signs, the greater the risk.
What Can Educators Do?
- While no one single symptom – or even a combination of factors – is a predictor of suicide. If you suspect that a student is suicidal, teachers and students should tell a counselor or an administrator.
- Always take suicidal comments very seriously. If a student says that he or she is thinking about suicide, you need to take the comments seriously. If you assume that the person is only seeking attention, you may be making a serious and potentially fatal decision.
- Listen attentively to everything that a potential suicide person has to say. Encourage the person talk as much as he or she wants to. Listen closely so that you can be as supportive as possible, and learn as much as possible about what is causing the pain.
- Comfort the person with words of encouragement. There is no script to follow in these situations.
- Don’t lecture or point out all the reasons a person has to live. Instead, listen and reassure the individual that depression and suicidal tendencies can be treated.
- If you suspect that the individual is at high risk of suicide, do not leave the person alone. If you are in doubt, call 911.
- Know your limits. Most of us have not been trained in how to handle situations like this. Be supportive; listen attentively; let the person know that you are deeply concerned.
- There are several local suicides “hotlines.” Their numbers are listed in your local telephone directories. Check the numbers in front of your telephone directory or call the emergency numbers. There is a National Suicide Helpline-1800-SUICIDE. These telephone lines are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by trained professional who can help without ever identifying the name of the individual calling. All calls are confidential.
American Academy of Pediatrics https://www.aap.org/advocacy/childhealthmonth/prevteensuicide.htm
Teen Suicide https://.focusas.com/suicide.html
Teens Health, https://www.kidshealth.org/
- HuffPost – Franklin Schargel Articles
- NASP – Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents & Educators
- Livingston Daily Press – You matter: Livingston students, grieving father fight teen suicide