Adolescence it can be a turbulent time. Teenagers deal with a vast array of new experiences during this transitional period, such as new relationships, decisions about the future, and the physical changes that are taking place in their bodies.
Some teenagers, however, can become overwhelmed by the uncertainties of adolescence and feel they have nowhere to turn.
Their search for answers may lead them to begin “self-medicating” their pain by abusing drugs or alcohol.
Or they might express their rage and frustration by engaging in acts of violence. They don’t want to talk about their emotions or problems because they may think that will make them a burden or that others will make fun of them.
Too often, these troubled teens opt instead to take their own lives.
The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth are depression, alcohol or drug abuse, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors.
If several of the following symptoms, experiences, or behaviors are present, a mental health professional or another trusted adult, such as a parent or a school counselor, should be consulted.
- Depressed mood
- Substance abuse
- Frequent episodes of running away or being incarcerated
- Family loss or instability; significant problems with parents
- Expressions of suicidal thoughts, or talk of death or the afterlife during moments of sadness or boredom
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
- No longer interested in or enjoying activities that once were pleasurable
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Impulsive, aggressive behavior; frequent expressions of rage
Adolescents who consider suicide generally feel alone, hopeless, and rejected. They are especially vulnerable to these feelings if they have experienced a loss, humiliation, or trauma of some kind: poor performance on a test, breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, parents with alcohol or drug problems or who are abusive, or a family life affected by parental discord, separation, or divorce. However, a teenager still may be depressed or suicidal even without any of these adverse conditions.
Teenagers who are planning to commit suicide might “clean house” by giving away favorite possessions, cleaning their rooms, or throwing things away. After a period of depression, they may also become suddenly cheerful because they think that by deciding to end their lives they have “found the solution.”
Young people who have attempted suicide in the past or who talk about suicide are at greater risk for future attempts. Listen for hints like “I’d be better off dead” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”
Some Suicide Statistics
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 19 years. Every day, 14 young people (ages 15 to 24) commit suicide, or approximately 1 every 100 minutes.
Almost all people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental or substance use disorder; the majority have more than one. Fifty-three percent of young people who commit suicide abuse substances.
Four times as many men as women commit suicide, but young women attempt suicide three times more frequently than young men.
What Can Be Done?
Teens aren’t helped by lectures or by hearing all the reasons they have to live.
What they need is to be reassured that they have someone to whom they can turn be it family, friends, school counselor, physician, or teacher to discuss their feelings or problems.
It must be a person who is very willing to listen and who is able to reassure the individual that depression and suicidal tendencies can be treated.
Treatment is of utmost importance.
Local chapters of the American Psychiatric Association can help by recommending a psychiatrist, a physician with special training in emotional and mental health.
Help can also be found through local mental health associations, family physi-cians, a county medical society, a local hospital’s department of psychiatry, a community mental health center, a mood disorders program affiliated with a university or medical school, or a family service/social agency.
In short, simply taking the time to talk to troubled teenagers about their emotions or problems can help prevent the senseless tragedy of teen suicide. Let them know help is available.