Teen suicide is a topic that is often not discussed or is seen as taboo, yet talking about it and knowing the warning signs can be the difference between life and death. I was thinking of friends who took their own lives this week and was reminded of how much emotional pain teens and young adults may be going through and not telling anyone. The victims can remain quiet about their thoughts of suicide for many reasons: they feel ashamed or worry about being blamed for not ‘snapping out of it,’ they may feel like they are not worthy of another person’s time. For families of those who attempt suicide, they may feel stigmatized or blame themselves.
For teens contemplating suicide and the friends and families who love them, there is hope. Teen suicide is something that we can prevent.
Teens are impulsive. They may not fully think through their actions before responding to a feeling. Limiting access to the more lethal means of suicide (guns, bridges, motor vehicles) can be life saving. Protection railings on bridges can be just enough of a hassle to climb to prevent a person contemplating suicide to impulsively jump. Storing a firearm unloaded with the bullets locked separately can require the extra effort that alerts a family member to suspicious behavior or provides the teen a few extra minutes to stop and think about what they are planning. In addition to limiting access to lethal means, talking with your teen and taking them seriously if they mention thoughts of suicide can help get them the emotional support they need.
Among teens and young adults aged 15-24 in the US, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death (accidents are the leading cause of death, followed by homicide). A recent study of youth in grades 9-12 in the US found that 15% of students reported seriously considering suicide and 7% reported trying to take their own life within the year before the survey. Nearly 150,000 youth receive treatment at emergency departments for suicide attempts each year. This past year, the media has brought to light the anguish felt by teens who were bullied and died after suicide attempts. These youth represented different backgrounds, male and female, gay and straight. LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) youth are more likely to think about and attempt suicide than their straight or heterosexual counterparts.
Risk factors include:
- history of a previous suicide attempt
- family history of suicide
- depression/mental illness
- exposure to others who have exhibited suicidal behaviors
- alcohol or drug abuse
- easy access things like firearms, medications, or other means of suicide
Warning signs include:
- Talking about suicide, expressing thoughts of suicide, or writing about death
- Expressing thoughts of hopelessness
- Giving away favorite possessions
- Leaving a ‘goodbye’ note/email/text/social media post
If your teen tells you they’ve been thinking about suicide, has any of the risk factors and warning signs, or you are worried about their safety, contact your teen’s medical provider right away or take them to the local emergency department where they can be evaluated for safety by a trained mental health professional (either a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist). You can reduce the risk of suicide by removing firearms from the home, removing unused or expired medications, and keeping small amounts of needed medications at home. Build a support system for you team including a therapist or mental health professional, friends, and family. If they attempt suicide, call 911.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
LGBTQ resource: The Trevor Project 866-4-U-TREVOR