You may already have heard about September being the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which allows me to address this topic in our blog.
September was first declared as the National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in 2008, giving September a time to acknowledge those affected by suicide, raise awareness, and connect with individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services.
Youth Suicide Statistics
- According to the Journal of American Medicine, teenage suicides have increased since the year 2000.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 (CDC, 2018).
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18 (CDC, 2018).
- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.
- Each day in our nation, there is average of over 3,703 attempts by young people grades 9-12. If these percentages are additionally applied to grades 7 & 8, the numbers would be higher.
- Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
Risk Factors and Warning Signs
Understanding risk factors and warning signs is one of the most important things that caregivers can do to protect their teens.
According to Mayo Clinic (2019), a teen might feel suicidal due to certain life circumstances such as:
- Having a psychiatric disorder, including depression
- Loss of or conflict with close friends or family members
- History of physical or sexual abuse or exposure to violence
- Problems with alcohol or drugs
- Physical or medical issues, for example, becoming pregnant or having a sexually transmitted infection
- Being the victim of bullying
- Being uncertain of sexual orientation
- Exposure to the suicide of a family member or friend
- Being adopted
- Family history of mood disorder or suicidal behavior
The warning signs to look for include, but are not limited to (Mayo Clinic, 2019):
- Talking or writing about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”
- Withdrawing from social contact
- Having mood swings
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Changing routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things
- Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
Times of Uncertainty
Anxiety and depression in teens are getting worse since the COVID-19 lockdown started back in March 2020. It’s kind of soon to have access to reliable data for the impact of COVID-19 on the increase of youth suicide, but multiple lines of evidence and experts indicate profound psychological and social effects.
With school, sports, social events, and other activities disrupted due to the pandemic, kids and teens are more isolated. They lose contact with teachers, coaches, counselors, and friends, who might be the ones that could identify the warning signs.
Teenagers are in a developmental stage where socialization and building relationships with peers outside the home is crucial. This has been disrupted with the pandemic.
For times like these, adults must be on the look-out for children and teens in their families, neighborhood and, their community.
- Suicide can be preventable, and it should be our priority.
- Pay attention: recognize the warning signs.
- Don’t ignore worrying symptoms, hoping they’ll go away.
- Trust your gut feeling, remember, four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
- Listen, even when they aren’t talking.
- Seek professional help: they can provide useful information and assess for risk.
- Combat isolation by encouraging connections: even in lockdown, there are creative and technological ways to keep connection ongoing.
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle: guide them into a daily healthy routine.
- Prioritize safety: store objects that could be used in a suicide attempt in an inaccessible area.
By Nicole Muniz, LMSW
If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help immediately:
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE
Veterans in crisis, press “1” to be directed to local VA resources
Deaf, hard of hearing TTY and chat options
En Español, call 1-888-628-9454
CRISIS TEXT LINE
Text HOME to 741-741
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: WISQARS. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/LeadingCauses.html
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019) Teen Suicide: What Parents Need to Know. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teen-suicide/art-20044308
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (2020) Youth: How to Take Care of Yourself. Retrieved from: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/