Adolescent Suicide- What can you do?

Posted on : 03 May 2019 | No Comments

In other words, over 16% of high school students in recent years experienced significant thoughts of killing themselves.

What’s more, suicide constitutes the second highest cause of death among young people in the U.S. (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2018).

These are grim statistics, and ones that show the need now more than ever for adults, peers, friends, and family of adolescents to help protect them from suicide. It is not uncommon to hear loved ones of someone lost to suicide say, “I never thought this could happen”, or “there were no signs of him thinking about doing this.” The truth is, there are often red flags, including very subtle ones, when someone is having suicidal thoughts.

An adolescent is not likely to come up to a friend or family member and declare, “I am thinking about killing myself, and here is my plan for how I’ll do it. Please help me not do this”. Rather, there are less direct ways they may communicate suicidal ideation. Look out for statements like these:

  • It’s just not worth it anymore.
  • I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.
  • I think the world would be better off without me.
  • I can’t stand the pain, I just want it to end.
  • It would be better to not feel at all.

Along with words, the teen may be engaging in concerning behaviors, such as isolating from friends and family, quitting activities in which they usually took pleasure, acting out or getting themselves into dangerous or risky situations, and changing their eating or sleeping habits.

It is imperative to communicate about suicidality with adolescents, most especially if these warning signs are present. Here are some tips on how to handle this conversation:

There is a misconception that talking about suicide will plant ideas in the person’s head, but in reality, if she has those ideas, they were already there. Broach the subject gently and in a way that makes them feel safe to share with you.

If there is any inkling that an adolescent is in danger of suicide, talk to them and put it all out on the table. Do not treat it like a taboo subject, but instead normalize it and ask open questions about how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

Find out if they have a plan, a time they intend to do it, and the means to follow through with their plan. If there is a clear plan and the danger seems imminent, get help immediately by calling 911.

If the adolescent is having suicidal ideation but does not intend to act on it, work on a safety plan with them so they have healthy coping mechanisms when experiencing thoughts of killing themselves. The safety plan can include people to contact, safe places to go, good activities to do, and lifelines to call (see the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number below).

If the adolescent is not already in therapy, see if that is something they are open to trying. If they are in therapy, make sure their therapist knows what is going on.

Adolescents are highly vulnerable, as they are working on identity development, feeling peer pressure and bullying, and lacking emotional maturity. Moreover, they tend to think irrationally to the point where they may catastrophize situations, believe they are completely alone in feeling the way they do, or think their distress will last forever. They need the support of loving friends and family members, along with therapists and other important adults in their lives.

Suicide is preventable. Take up the mantle to spread awareness and have those difficult conversations. They are not easy, but they could be life-saving.

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If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

 

Learn more about the author:

Isabel Tanco, Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern, is Director of Clinical Services for PeakBrain in North Texas. In her role, she supervises the delivery of brain training services as well as counseling and coaching to PeakBrain’s clients. Isabel is a bilingual counselor who works with children, teens, couples, families and individuals.

Isabel had the life-changing opportunity to go on service trips to Mexico, Chile, and Peru to help those living in poverty. Through these experiences, she developed a passion for helping those in need. She realizes that forming relationship and meaningful connection with others is paramount to holistic health and wellbeing. Isabel believes that every person is the expert on their own life, and that they have the power within them to achieve positive change, growth, and healing. Being multi-racial and multi-cultural herself, Isabel enjoys working with clients who identify with minority cultural groups or are experiencing acculturation issues. She has experience working with adolescents facing a range of challenges, from depression, anxiety, ADHD, developmental concerns and severe trauma. She has also seen college students and young adults, who navigate the stress of difficult transitions and school and work life. Isabel has worked in university, community, and private practice settings assisting clients with a wide range of presenting concerns.

To work directly with Isabel, or to learn more about PeakBrain’s brain training or counseling services call 972.449.0441.

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1. Kann, L., et al. (2016). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries, 65(6), 1-174. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6506a1.htm

2. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2018). Ten leading causes of death and injury. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/LeadingCauses.html

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