Information from Healthy Place:
September is Suicide Prevention Month. Teen suicide is becoming more common every year in the U.S. In fact, only car accidents and murders kill more people between the ages of 15 and 24, making suicide the third leading cause of death in teens overall in children ages 10 to 19 years old. As many as 8% of adolescents will attempt suicide today. Completed suicides have increased by 300% over the last 30 years. Girls make more attempts at suicide, but boys complete suicide four to five times as often as girls. Thinking about suicide, or feeling helpless and hopeless about how to solve life’s problems, are signs that a teen may be at risk and in need of help and support. Beyond thoughts of suicide, actually making a plan or carrying out a suicide attempt is even more serious.
What makes some teens begin to think about suicide—and even worse, to plan or do something with the intention of ending their own lives? One of the biggest factors is depression. Suicide attempts are usually made when a person is seriously depressed or upset. A teen who is feeling suicidal may see no other way out of problems, no other escape from emotional pain, or no other way to communicate their desperate unhappiness.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide among teens. Children can experience depression at any age, even shortly after birth. In very young children, depression can manifest in a number of ways, including failure to thrive, disrupted attachments to others, developmental delays, social withdrawal, separation anxiety, sleeping and eating problems, and dangerous behaviors. In general, depression affects a person’s physical, cognitive, emotional and motivational well-being, no matter their age. Teens with depression may exhibit fatigue, difficulty with school work, apathy and/or lack of motivation. He or she may be over-sleeping, socially isolated, acting out in self-destructive ways and/or have a sense of hopelessness. Teens who are considered at high risk for depression disorders include:
- children referred to a mental health provider for school problems;
- children with medical problems;
- gay and lesbian adolescents;
- incarcerated adolescents;
- pregnant adolescents;
- and children with a family history of depression.
Other Risk Factors
In addition to depression, there are other emotional conditions that can put teens at greater risk for suicide. For example, teens with conduct disorder (a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated) are at higher risk. These teens tend to have problems with aggression and may be more likely to act out impulsively.
Substance abuse problems also put teens at risk for suicidal thinking and behavior. Alcohol and some drugs have depressive effects on the brain. Misuse of these substances can bring on serious depression, especially in teens already prone to depression. Besides depressive effects, alcohol and drugs alter a person’s judgment. They interfere with the ability to assess risk, make good choices, and think of solutions to problems. Many suicide attempts occur when a teen is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Teens with substance abuse problems often have serious depression or intense life stresses, too, further increasing their risk.
Being a teen is not easy for anyone. There are many new social, academic, and personal pressures. And for teens who have additional problems to deal with, life can feel even more difficult. Teens who have been a part of domestic violence or witness domestic violence are at risk. Some teens are struggling with concerns about sexuality and relationships, wondering if their feelings and attractions are normal, if they will be loved and accepted, or if their changing bodies are developing normally. Others struggle with body image and eating problems. Some teens have learning problems or attention problems that make it hard for them to succeed in school. They may feel disappointment in others. All of these things can affect mood and cause some people to feel depressed or to turn to alcohol or drugs for a false sense of soothing. Without the necessary coping skills or support, these social stresses can increase the risk of serious depression and, therefore, suicidal ideas and behavior. Teens who have had a recent loss or crisis or who had a family member who committed suicide may be especially vulnerable to suicidal thinking and behavior themselves.
Many times there are warning signs that someone is seriously depressed and may be thinking about or planning a suicide attempt:
- trouble concentrating or thinking clearly;
- changes in eating or sleeping habits;
- major changes in appearance;
- talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty;
- talk about suicide;
- talk about death;
- talk about “going away”;
- self-destructive behavior;
- no desire to take part in favorite activities;
- giving away favorite possessions;
- suddenly very happy and cheerful moods after being depressed or sad for a long time (this may indicate that a person has decided to attempt suicide and feels relieved to have found a “solution.”)