Many teenagers have battled thoughts of suicide. The numbers do not lie. 26.9% of teens have at least one form of mental, emotional, or behavioral struggles. 36.7% of high school students have reported feeling immense amounts of sadness and hopelessness in the past year; 18.8% of them contemplating taking their own life. 8.9% of those students attempted. The second leading cause of death among teens and adults aged ten to thirty four is in fact suicide, and the pandemic has not aided this in any way. According to the Jed Foundation, between the years of 2019 and 2020, there was an increase in emergency room visits due to mental health crises by 30.7%. The statistics in teen suicidal ideations and actions are disheartening, however that does not mean we should sweep those struggles under the rug just because they are uncomfortable.
Anyone can be affected by suicidal ideations, but there are also risk factors others should have an awareness of. The majority of the time, those who suffer from suicidal ideations already have pre-existing mental health conditions; the most common are anxiety, depression, bipolar/conduct disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Trauma can also play a large role, both physical and emotional. Access to lethal means such as drugs, firearms, etc. are another risk factor to be aware of. Prolonged stress typically caused by bullying, abusive relationships -both romantic and platonic- and unemployment can cause teens to contemplate taking their life. Other risk factors include anxiety provoking events, such as rejection, divorce, financial crisis, and loss. A frequently forgotten risk for those struggling with suicidal ideations is the exposure to someone else’s suicide or the romanticization of it. There is nothing romantic or beautiful about taking one’s life, yet today’s media often glamorizes these feelings, making them appear desirable. Furthermore, self destructive thoughts can be inherited genetically through family members who have similarily struggled with mental illness. Previous suicidal attempts and ideations are important to acknowledge as well. Regrettably, many children experience childhood abuse or neglect, which can also contribute to these thoughts. Finally, the majority of high school students experience intense academic pressure, which can add to already intense stress and anxiety according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. However, though these risk factors do not always apply, they are something to be aware of when understanding others.
One of the most common phrases said when one is lost due to suicide is, “I just had no idea.” Unfortunately, that statement is often true. Those battling depression and suicidal thoughts often make an immense effort to mask their pain for copious reasons. Some fear burdening others with their hurt while others find comfort in the sadness. Despite this, there are warning signs to look out for if concerned about a loved one. A clear warning can often be found in one’s verbal communication. Talk of ending their life, feeling trapped, hopeless, overwhelmed, no purpose in living, worries of burdening others, or intense emotional pain are all signs to look out for when talking to someone you are worried about. Additionally, multiple warning signs can be found in behavior. Increased use of alcohol and drugs, withdrawal from hobbies and activities that once brought joy, and isolation from friends and family are all common habits of those struggling. Moreover, either intense fatigue or persistent restlessness, reaching out to apologize or say goodbye, giving away possessions of great importance, restricting food intake or binge eating, and purging through self-induced vomiting, intensive exercise, or laxatives are also signs that someone is hurting. Finally, there is often a large warning in their mood. Those experiencing suicidal ideations can feel intense emotions of depression, anxiety, loss in interest, irritability, aggression, shame, embarrassament, and most commonly, sudden improvement. Although seemingly contradictory, seeing someone bounce back from a struggle is a major warning sign to be aware of. Oftentimes, those who are hurting do their best not to show it.
So how do we prevent suicide, especially among teens. What we need is to have better access to mental health care and a strong, sustainable support system. A limit to lethal means is also important. High school students should be educated in coping mechanisms and mental health with sensitivity. We need environments that encourage seeking help, connecting with others, and discourage yet provide help with self-destructive behavior. We need places that create a prevalent sense of self worth and purpose, because everyone deserves to feel that. It is necessary that we learn how to prevent suicide amongst adolescents.
Unfortunately, self destructive thoughts are common among high school students, but not many know how to respond. If you know someone who is struggling with suicidal ideations, speaking with them in private about why you are concerned is typically one of the best ways to approach the situation. Furthermore, listen to what they have to say and do not minimize their feelings. Suicidal feelings are real and not something that should be ignored. Remind them that you love and care about them, and ask directly if they have a plan. Encourage them to reach out and seek help. However if you genuinely feel that they are not safe, take them seriously. Stay with them and do not hesitate to reach out to an adult or crisis line. Although it is intense and they may fight back, their safety should come first in that situation. Never hesitate to call for help.
A common issue observed is the lack of education on suicide prevention from educators. What educators need to do is educate on suicide prevention with intention. There are a multitude of programs on suicide and its real-world impact, such as Its Real, More Than Sad, Talk Saves Lives, and more. Additionally, educators need to be more flexible and look out for warning signs presented in adolescents. We’re not asking for educators to be therapists, we’re simply asking for compassion.
Another common issue overlooked is suicide amongst LGBTQ+ teens and people of color. As stated previously, 18.8% of high school students have reported to having seriously considering suicide in the past year. This percentage was higher by 46.8% in LGBTQ+ teens. Also previously stated, 8.9% of high school students attempted suicide in the past year as well. This percentage was highest among black teens by 11.8% and 23.4% by LGBTQ+ teens. Moreover, statistics have shown that LGBTQ+ teens were more likely than non-LGBTQ+ teens to use alcohol and drugs as a means of coping with depression and anxiety, due to the immense lack of resources available. Previously expressed, 36.7% of high school students have reported feeling sadness and hopelessness in the past year, higher by 40% in Hispanic teens and by 66.3% in LGBTQ+ teens.
While many unfortunately do not have supportive friends or family members to reach out to, there are still a multitue of resources available. The Trevor Project is a great resource for LGBTQ+ teens, offering supportive, confidential crisis counselors 24/7, along with more information and resources for those struggling. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is also a helpful resource, a national network offering over 150 crisis centers. It offers free and confidential support to everyone at all times. You can call or text at 800-273-8255, or they have a chat line. Finally, The Youth Mental Health Project is a nonprofit with a mission to educate and support communities in better understanding of adolescent mental health. The nonprofit offers a multitude of resources, information, events, and ways to get involved in the advancement of mental health advocacy and education.
Teen suicide is an inntensely difficult to understand, however it should not be stigmatized and ignored. If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, do not be afraid to reach out for help.