Teen Suicide Warning Signs: How to Avoid Tragedy

Lizzie Meyer, Staff Member

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When a teenager feels so hopeless and alone that they take their own lives, it is devastating to the people around them. Family, friends, and the community as a whole are affected by a calamity like this, even if it is a minuscule effect to some of them. Family, classmates, teachers, coaches, and people in the community are often left wondering what went wrong. They wonder why this kid they’ve spent so many days with, either to hang out, to teach, to coach, or just a kid they’ve seen walking through the neighborhood, would take their own life. Many teens who make this decision don’t realize the ripple effect that comes along with them leaving this world, as they often feel like no one cares enough about them to be hurt if they are gone.

The reason behind a teenager’s suicide can be very complicated – partly because it’s rare for children to take their own lives – when the large scale of this tragedy is taken into consideration and all ages are looked at. Regardless, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that suicide is the third leading cause of death in people between the ages of 15-24, and it is thought that for every teenage suicide, there are at least 25 attempts made. Suicide rates are different between boys and girls, girls considering/attempting suicide about two times as often as boys do, and girls tend to attempt suicide by overdosing or cutting themselves. Overdosing using either over the counter or prescription medication is a common method, so parents need to monitor the medication that is in the home and be aware that teens will sometimes “trade” medications as school and store them in their backpack or locker. However, boys die about four times as often as girls because they tend to use different, more lethal methods including hanging, jumping from heights, or firearms. Due to this, the risk of suicide dramatically increases when there are firearms in the teen’s home that they can get their hands on, so guns should also be monitored, locked away, and unloaded if there is a child or teen in the house.

It can sometimes be hard for adults to remember exactly what it was like to be a teen as they are often stuck in the grey area between childhood and adulthood. Even if all adults could perfectly remember what it was like when they were a teen, it’s very different now due to all the new technology that has developed over time and the materialistic generation of teenagers that is present today. Although teenage years are full of so many possibilities, they’re also often filled with stress, worry, and anxiety. There’s a lot of pressure on high schoolers to fit in and perform well academically and to act as responsible individuals as they are transforming into adults. This is also a time where teens are figuring out their sexual identity and relationships. This can be another stressor in many young people’s lives, especially if they are dealing with bisexuality, homosexuality, pansexuality, etc. in a homophobic or unsupportive home, community, or school and around hostile people.

Teens experiencing bullying are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts/tendencies. Teenagers who have mental health problems are at a higher risk to have suicidal thoughts and to act of those feelings. These can include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, insomnia, and many more. Insomnia isn’t only a disorder, but can also be a side effect of other mental disorders. Alcohol or drug abuse can also be a risk factor, whether it is themselves or someone around them using the substance. About 95% of people who die by suicide have a psychological disorder at the time of their death.

When a teen is going through major life changes, usually in the home/family, that can also make them have increased risk of these suicidal thoughts and feelings. This can include many things, such as their parents going through a divorce/separation, a parent leaving for the military, and financial changes. All of these can put major stress on a teenager and they often feel helpless in situations like these, as there’s not really anything they can do about it. They may feel worthless or hopeless, which is also linked to having a disorder like depression, as these feelings often accompany the mental disorder. Family is another stressor that can increase the risk of suicide for many reasons. One of these reasons could be that if the teen has a family history of depression or suicide, they may be more likely to have the disorder or to commit suicide themselves. A lack of a supportive family and a poor relationship with parents can also increase risk as they are isolated from the people around them.

This can go further than family and is also relevant to peers, friends, and classmates. One risk factor that can include family, but can go beyond that into friendships or relationships, is abuse. This can be emotional, physical and sexual abuse and can be either in the past or going on currently. If a teen consistently shows impulsive behaviors, that can be something to watch out for as this person could make a rash decision over something unreasonable. Past suicide attempts also increase the risk of another one.

Along with risk factors come warning signs. It’s very important to look out for these signs as they can end up saving someone’s life if others pay attention to these things. One of these signs is physical changes in appearance and/or hygiene. If someone seems to have given up on the way they present themselves physically, this could be due to lack of motivation because they are planning to kill themselves or because they’re too depressed to really care about how others view them, which is a warning sign whether the person is planning on committing or not.

If a teen who usually does not engage in any risky behaviors suddenly begins to, it’s important to take note of it and keep a close eye on them. These behaviors can include reckless driving, unsafe sex, and drug and alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse on its own is another warning sign whether or not the person is engaging in any other risky behaviors. Self-harm behaviors are also a warning sign. This can include cutting, scratching or burning oneself, not eating enough or setting too many restrictions on their diet, hitting oneself, often on their head, or banging their head on something. There are many reasons someone might do this, such as wanting relief from negative feels/mental states, a fight with a friend or family member, to deal with an intrapersonal issue such as boredom, or to induce a positive feeling state.

Some warning signs for self harm are unexplained frequent burns or cuts on the body, low self-esteem, difficulty handling one’s own feelings, relationship issues or avoidance of a relationship, and poor functioning at work, school, or home. Even though self harm is a warning sign of suicide, not all self harm is suicidal, as there is such thing as non-suicidal self injury. If a person suddenly loses interest in things and starts to withdraw themselves from people, that should be paid attention to as well. This can mean not wanting to take part in social activities, sports, or school anymore and not spending time with their friends and family. Not being able to focus in school or a sudden drop in grades can go along with that.

If someone starts giving away their possessions, especially ones that are important to them, away, that’s a sign and means it may be coming sooner than anyone would like to think. When this happens, the person commonly gives their things away to siblings and friends. Someone also may tell others that they’re going to take their own life, but it’s either indirectly or in a joking manner. If a person talks or jokes about suicide frequently or gives hints that they may not be around anymore, that should be taken seriously even if it’s said as a joke, although not always right away. People today are insensitive to things like that and joke about taking their life or telling another to do so, so just someone saying something like that doesn’t mean they’re going to commit suicide. If someone talks about having feelings of guilt or shame over something they’ve done and say that it, or something else, makes them feel hopeless and they don’t know what to do, or even that they have nothing to live for, it would be a good idea for someone keep an eye on that person in case if those feelings get too overwhelming.

Some teens use forms of art to hint about suicide and will write songs, poems, and draw, paint, etc. things that relate to suicide. Many people often write songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss as a sign that they may be planning to kill themselves. Lastly, if someone is researching methods to commit suicide or gathering any weapons that may be used, that is a huge warning sign, especially if it happens after they have been talking about suicide.

There are ways to help people that may be considering suicide. One of the ways someone can help is by just talking to the person. People often think that bringing up suicide to someone who may be considering it will plant the idea in their head, but that’s not true. By asking them about it and expressing their concerns, the message that will most likely be sent to the other person is that they are cared for and recognized. What has to be done next, is that the person asking has to really listen to the other. Opening up to others about how one is feeling can be really hard, especially when it comes to suicide, so people need to really listen and validate their feelings.

Adults often tend to compare a teenagers problems with their own when they were a teen, saying things like, “I was really sad when I was a teenager, but I got over it,” and will sometimes even tell the teen that they, “don’t want to hear about things like that.” One should always be compassionate to whoever they’re talking to and show that they love and care about them. One thing that parents often do when their child is feeling this way is basically to lock them up in the house. They will start to cocoon their child inside the house and not let them go out, but that can actually increase the risk of suicide. What they need to do is make sure their teen maintains a connection with friends and family, and those people need to reach out and make an effort to stay connected as well. Even doing simple things, like watching TV or playing a video game, which people wouldn’t think of as maintaining a connection, will help the teen to not feel alone.

People, especially parents, need to trust their own judgment. Teens who are having suicidal thoughts will often deny it, but if one thinks that they aren’t being truthful then further steps need to be taken to ensure their safety, which leads into the last topic. Safety should always be a priority for parents, but even more so when their child wants to take their own life. To do this, all weapons should be removed from the house, the teen should not be left completely alone for excessive amounts of time, and professional help should be sought out right away.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts/feeling, please seek help immediately. There are sources listed below where you can find this help, and sources listed that were used for the information in this article.

Help
-National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255
-American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) https://afsp.org/find-support/
-American Association of Suicidology http://www.suicidology.org/suicide-survivors/sos-directory
-Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide https://www.sptsusa.org/

Sources
-Kids Health https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/suicide.html
-American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/teens-suicide-prevention.aspx
-Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/self-injury#3

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