Teen Suicide: A Better Understanding and Seeking Prevention

By Miranda Farthing, LPCA

Suicide is not a simple subject to talk (or write about), there is a special difference in the weight of the subject when adding “teen”, “child”, or “adolescent” in front of the word “suicide”. It isn’t easy to listen to either, if you are a parent, a sibling, relative, or friend of the child who is suicidal.

According to Betsy Kennard, Psy. D. from Dallas TX wrote; Nationally, rates of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and self-harm have more than doubled, up from less than half a percent in 2008 to 2 percent in 2015. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, suicide became the second-leading cause of death in individuals age 10 to 24 years. As of 2019, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among teens according. Considering the 4 year discrepancy between 2016 and 2019 and the increasing population of millions of teens in the U.S., I’d say going from the 2nd leading cause of death to the 3rd is a praise-worthy improvement we can be grateful for and continue to build on.

The first thing to understand when it comes to suicide is that it’s always about having a lost sense of hope; i.e, it’s about being in pain that you cannot escape, and their brain is searching for ways end such pain. Someone must introduce new ways and ideas to alleviate the pain they are experiencing and reinspire hope. This is always a collaborative effort on the part of the family, friends, and your counselor. Parents of the suicidal child, it would be wise for you to go to counseling as well as you move through this change with your child. Parents, friends, teachers – by simply taking an interest, humbling yourself to inquire with genuine and kind concern as to why the child is in the pain they are is incredibly helpful. Often times the matter is so complex that they cannot simply tell you why, but it will mean a great deal that you took the time to stop and take an interest to carry what they could give you of their burden and to listen to their pain, even if it means just giving them a safe space to cry, and an opportunity to be heard – even when they aren’t ready to talk.

Some things to keep in mind:

– Please keep in mind and extend grace that is needed towards the child as they are in pain, and people in pain will sometimes respond in congruence to their hurt.

– Suicide always begins with the thought, often the child will rehearse methods of killing themselves, much like practice. They may talk about it to their friends and family in subtle ways to get a feel for how much they actually care, will their care be sustained, who is paying attention, who is listening, who do they feel like they matter to. Feeling like you matter is often the reason you run with friends/crowds you choose.

– Causes for suicidal ideation likely are a combination of stress, fear, doubt, and pressures combined with normal developmental changes they struggle with, in addition to changes in places they found safety in such as divorced families, siblings moving out, or moving to a new community, other losses or griefs. Other issues may also contribute that the child may feel too ashamed or fearful to share or seek help for, leading to the search for a way out of the stuck they find themselves suddenly in their life.

– Teens are more at risk for suicide if they act on impulsive/risky behaviors, have mental or substance abuse problems, undesirable life events such as being bullied or recent losses occur, such as the death of a parent, family history of mental or substance abuse problems or suicide. If there is violence in the family, physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally. If there are weapons not respectfully locked up in the home. Children are also incredibly impressionable and searching for themselves at this age, thus, exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family or peers, in the news, or in fiction stories can increase a child’s risk. This is not to say a child needs to be sheltered from the realities of the world.

– It is important appropriately teach the seriousness of the darker experiences of the world, and how to balance these difficulties they will face in life with the positive, brighter realities they will experience and sometimes earn and enjoy in life.

Warning Signs:

  • Withdrawal from family/friends/things they normally enjoy.
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Change in sleep patterns or appetite for a period of time.
  • Acting out, risky/impulsive behaviors, drug/alcohol abuse.
  • Obsession with death/dying, neglecting their own self-care.
  • Physical complaints – stomachaches, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue.
  • Loss of interest in work/schoolwork, people. Lack of response to praise.
  • Feeling or stating they wish to die.
  • Says “I want to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide.”
  • Gives verbal hints, “I won’t be a problem much longer,”/“If anything happens to me, I want you to know ….”
  • Gives away or throws away favorite or important personal belongings
  • Becomes suddenly cheerful after being depressed
  • May express strange thoughts
  • Writes 1 or more suicide notes

If your child is suicidal:

It is very important that they be evaluated by a mental health professional. Teen suicide is always a cry for help, and should be taken very seriously. If a child expresses suicidal ideation or is actively suicidal, do not leave that child alone, remove anything that they could use to harm themselves, especially in the home. Whoever you are (friend, teacher, mental health professional), if you even suspect suicidal ideation, you must tell legal guardian or someone who can help you help the suicidal person/child.

Next, take the child to be evaluated by a mental health professional and begin treatment. It is highly recommended that they have a physical examination by their physician to rule out any medical causes or influences. Depending on the severity and reasoning for suicidal thoughts, treatment may include medical and mental health therapies, or hospitalization in a behavioral health unit until client is stabilized and can continue outpatient treatment with a Counselor. Often, when a child is suicidal Counselors often recommend inpatient care until stabilized and/or initiate a tridactic level of care, which includes seeing the counselor 2-3x per week, and making an appointment with their physician and a psychiatrist to ensure best level of care, quickly. The counselor encourages openness and non judgemental communication between parent and child, because active parental involvement is vital to successful outcomes in mental health. A safety plan is planned out with the child and therapist where they list 3 people whom they trust they can reach out to if they feel suicidal, and the therapist gives them the National Suicide Hotline number, and with their signatures the client agrees to work at any means necessary to stay alive and work through this time with the therapist, and the therapist signs to agree to help the client. I often work on the safety plan with the client, and talk extensively with the client to find motivation for the present and hope for the future. In the moment it isn’t always about the way as much as it is finding the light at the end of the tunnel to anchor ourselves to so we can then reach back and work through whatever is happening in the past or present that needs to change.

Prevention:

To prevent teen suicide, pay very close attention to your child.
– Listen to the deeper reasons for their complaints and frustrations, learn about who they are, reinforce their strengths and ambitions, encourage and participate with them in memorable moments and regular, healthy, self-care routines.
– Read and learn about suicide warning signs and prevention.
– Maintain your relationship and open communication with your child/friend/student.
– Listen to understand and be supportive, without undue criticism.

 

About the Author: Miranda Farthing is a Licensed Professional Counseling Associate (LPCA). She obtained her Bachelor’s in Psychology, her Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and Ed.S in Professional School Counseling at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Miranda works as a School Based Therapist and Clinician for Emerald Therapy Center LLC.