Suicide in Teens

Suicide in Teens

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Teen suicide is a growing problem in our country. According to the American Psychological Association, it is the third leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24. What are the symptoms and warning signs of suicide in teens, and why would a young person even consider it?

Warning Signs of Teen Suicide:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family 
  • Previous suicide attempts (a strong indicator, many suicides have had prior attempts)
  • Off handed remarks – even in jest or in casual conversation, about life not being worth living
  • Dramatic changes in personality or eating habits
  • Changes in the quality of schoolwork or lower grades
  • Worsening change of appearance
  • Living in a constant state of fear
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Prone to intense periods of sadness
  • Social isolation
  • Change and loss of will and drive: things that normally would bring happiness now have little effect
  • No longer caring about things that they used to care about
  • A preoccupation with death - drawing pictures, writing, or researching the topic of death
  • Disturbances of sleep

Why do teens attempt suicide?

Mental Illness:

There is a strong relationship between suicide and mental illness. Research has shown the majority of those who commit suicide struggle with mental illness, and it can frequently be undiagnosed. Illnesses such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety disorders are common underlying conditions that may give rise to suicidal ideation.

However, sometimes mental illness is used as a “catch-all” blame for suicide, when it may not actually be a contributing factor. Other factors such as shame, fear, bullying, and physical health can also play a significant role in suicidal thoughts.

Fear and Bullying:

Fear has been linked to suicide. Bullying has devastating effects on a young person’s psyche and their development. A teenager who is picked on, harassed, and bullied at school can sink into a state of fear and dread, and feel that there is no escape. A common response some adults have is to tell children “just stay away from the bullies.” This approach is harmful and detrimental, as it frees the bullies to continue their behavior while pinning responsibility on the victim. Other students frequently do not report bullies because they themselves have fear that they will be next. When a child lives in a constant state of fear, suicidal thoughts can arise and be carried out. Schools should adopt and promote programs that always give students a safe and easy way to report bullying and harassment anonymously.

Shame and Social Media

Suicide among teenagers due to being shamed on social media is a dramatic new reality in our country, and across the internet. Sexting has been involved in several suicides and many more suicide attempts. For example, a teen girl may share revealing photos of herself to another peer in confidence, expecting it to be seen only by that one person. But then at some point, the other person spreads the photos around, and in minutes, a single photo can catch fire over social media and spread out onto the internet. The effects this can have on a young person are catastrophic. The devastated teenager is left exposed and utterly humiliated, in a single moment she feels her life literally crumble into pieces. An otherwise mentally healthy teenager can literally become suicidal overnight due to the overwhelming burden of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, exposed, and humiliated.

Teenagers who have been exposed or shamed over social media and to other peer groups (with or without the aid of the internet) are terrified to approach their parents, teachers, or leaders because they are worried about being thought of in a negative light. They may be emotionally blackmailed by those who “know what they have done”. Teachers and community leaders should take time to talk about this subject openly to students in advance, giving them safety and understanding in case of social media humiliation or peer based shaming.  This can preempt the overwhelming feelings of entrapment when a child is exposed to the trauma of internet shaming.

Our teenagers need to know that even if they have done things they regret, even if they have participated in things like sexting, that they can always find safety, grace, and understanding among those who care for them. Teenagers who do not know this truth may find suicide to be the only logical escape.

Getting Help

Issues that underlie suicidal thoughts are properly addressed by a mental health professional. Licensed psychologists and those who practice individual and family counseling are properly equipped to deal with the many issues that contribute to suicide. The best help, however, comes in prevention; it arises from increased awareness by a community that is sensitive to the current issues that teens face. It comes in the form of acceptance and understanding by teachers and leaders, parents and pastors who are committed to bringing to the forefront an awareness that suicide does not happen in a vacuum and that there is always a far better way out.

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