All too often, we see nationwide headlines reporting of a student committing suicide due to depression, bullying and/or cyberbullying, or feeling so completely isolated from their family and peers, they thought they had no other choice but to end their life.
End their life. The weight of these three words, and in relation to our youth, is inconceivable.
What is teen suicide?
According to Stanford Children’s Health, teen suicide is when an adolescent between the ages of 10-19 causes his or her own death on purpose. Before making the decision to take their own life, teens may have suicidal ideation (thoughts of wanting to die) or suicidal behavior (focus on doing things that cause their death).
Teen suicide statistics
According to Journal of the American Medical Association, suicide claimed the lives of 5,016 males and 1,225 females between ages 15 and 24 in the United States. In 2017, this youth suicide rate, which was 14.6 per 100,000, appears to be the highest since the government began collecting statistics in 1960.
According to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and the Journal of the American Medical Association, the rate of U.S. adolescents and young adults dying of suicide has reached its highest level in nearly two decades.
- In 2017, there were 47 percent more suicides among people aged 15 to 19 than in the year 2000.
- With more than 6,200 suicides among people aged 15 to 24, suicide ranked as the second-leading cause of death for people in that age group in 2017, trailing behind deaths from unintentional motor vehicle accidents, which claimed 6,697 lives.
- Suicide rates among females have been on the rise for several years in this time period, with the rates for 15- to 19-year-olds rising more quickly after 2009. An even more noticeable spike has occurred in suicides for adolescent and young adult males since 2014.
- Researchers found there were 11.8 deaths per 100,000 adolescents ages 15 to 19 years in 2017. That’s up from 2000, when there were eight deaths per 100,000 adolescents.
What teens are at risk for suicide?
According to kidshealth.org, today’s teens face immense pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically, and to act responsibly. It can be hard for parents or guardians to remember how it felt to be a teen, caught in the gray area between childhood and adulthood. Teens with mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Also, teens going through major life changes such as parents’ divorce, moving, the death of a dear friend or family member are at risk. Lastly, teens who are victims of bullying and/or cyberbullying are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts. Factors that increase the risk of teen suicide include:
- A psychological disorder, especially depression, bipolar disorder, and alcohol and drug use
- Feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
- Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
- A previous suicide attempt
- A family history of depression or suicide
- Emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- Lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
- Dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family or community or hostile school environment
What are the warning signs of teen suicide?
Making openly suicidal statements or comments such as, “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” are signs that a teen is thinking about suicide. According to kidshealth.org, other warning signs include:
- Talk about suicide or death in general
- Hints that they might not be around anymore
- Talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
- Pull away from friends or family
- Write songs, poems, or letters about death, separation, and loss
- Start giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends
- Lose the desire to take part in favorite things or activities
- Have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
- Experience changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Engage in risk-taking behaviors
- Lose interest in school or sports
How to help a teen who is at risk of committing suicide
Teens who commit or attempt suicide most likely have given some type of warning to friends or loved ones ahead of time. It is important for parents, guardians and educators to know the warning signs, and immediately intervene when they occur. According to kidshealth.org:
- Watch and listen: Keep a close eye on a teen who is depressed and withdrawn. It is important to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support and love.
- Ask questions: It is always good to ask, even though doing so can be difficult. Sometimes it helps to explain why you are asking. For example, you might say, “I’ve noticed you have been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”
- Get help: If you learn or think your child is at risk of suicide, seek professional help immediately. Your primary care physician can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or your local hospital’s department of psychiatry can provide a list of doctors in your area. In an emergency, call 911.
Lifelines of support:
- National Suicide Prevention Line: 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Confidential online chat is available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org
If you have lost a child to suicide
For parents or guardians, the death of a child is the most painful loss imaginable. The pain and grief may never completely go away, but there are ways to begin the healing process:
- Maintain contact with others
- Seek out supportive people to talk with about your child and your feelings
- Counseling and support groups can play a role in helping you realize you are not alone
How Just Say YES programs address teen suicide
Just Say YES speaks life into students who are on the “fringe”, meaning those who are in danger of isolation and can be easily influenced by negative pressures. Through effective programming (high-impact assemblies and peer-to-peer mentoring), Just Say YES provides social and emotional learning opportunities to K-12th grade students, equipping them with the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need in order to achieve healthy and successful futures. We also support educators and parents through programs that address current issues in today’s youth culture in order to help build a healthy and supportive campus and at-home climates. For more information on a particular speaker, or to book a program, visit our Contact Us page. Fill out the form, and a Just Say YES representative will respond to you promptly!