Teenage suicide a crisis
In my 4 decades of law enforcement there were few things more disturbing to me than when I was involved in investigating teen suicide.
Suicide continues to be a serious public health problem in the United States. Depression, self-harm and suicide are rising among Americans where suicide is the second leading cause of death between the ages 10–24.
Additionally, according to the Jason Foundation, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.
Typically, there are signs and symptoms that indicate that a teen might be contemplating suicide. Oftentimes, teens who contemplate or carryout suicide attempts have a mental health disorder of some sort.
In fact, about 90 percent of teens who commit suicide are dealing with a mental health challenge. Most teens do not spend a long-time planning suicide. It often will occur after an event or circumstance that may leave them feeling like they have failed, or after having experienced a loss or some other traumatic event in their life where they have no control.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates among males in 2021 was four times higher than the rate for females. CDC also reported the following statistics: 52.8 percent of suicides were caused by firearms, 27.2 percent were caused by suffocation, 12 percent were caused by poisoning and 8 percent by other means.
If you see signs that your child’s mental health is under threat, be aware. Here are some things you can do to help identify and hopefully prevent suicide.
•Maybe your child is just having a bad day, but when signs of mental health problems last for weeks, don’t assume it’s just a passing mood. Nine out of 10 teens who took their own lives we’re struggling with mental health issues that were unknown to the parents.
Teens who haven’t been diagnosed with any mental health conditions may still be at risk. Many teens who attempt suicide do not understand mental health issues, but in most cases, they will give signs that they are considering suicide. Therefore, you should be prepared to seek professional help as soon as you suspect there’s a problem.
•Listen, even when your child is not talking. Don’t be surprised if your teen turns away when you first raise the subject of mental health or suicide. Keep in mind that, even if your child is silent at first, actions may speak louder than words. Watch for major changes in your child’s sleep patterns, appetite, and social activities.
If your child is struggling more than usual with schoolwork, chores or other responsibilities, these are additional signs you shouldn’t ignore.
•Realize your child might be facing suicide risk you’re not aware of. Many parents wonder: Could this really be happening to my child? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Young people of all races, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual orientations, income levels die by suicide every year.
In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people 10 to 24 years of age. Loss of a loved one, bullying, in person or online, discrimination, rejection or hostility due to gender identity or sexual orientation, racism, family history of suicide, or mental health difficulties can become a reason for a suicide attempt.
•Get professional help right away. If your teen appears self-harming, or you sense they are at risk for attempting suicide, take them to the emergency department of your local hospital. Immediate action is critical when things have reached a critical point.
If you see signs of suicidal thoughts but don’t sense an immediate crisis, you still need to act. Reach out to your school administration, your church, your pediatrician or local mental health providers who treat children and teens. Explain what you’re seeing and hearing and schedule a mental health evaluation.
•Remove or secure guns you have at home. Do the same with medications. Half of youth suicides occur with firearms and suicide attempts with firearms are almost always fatal. By far, the safest option is to remove guns and ammunition from your home when your teen is struggling with thoughts of suicide.
A home safe storage is the second-best option. Guns are not the only means of suicide your child might seek out. Prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs can pose hazards during a suicidal crisis. Keep medications locked away whenever possible.
As is the case for firearms in the home the same holds true for alcohol. Removing alcohol from the home will eliminate the potential for misuse.
•Talk to your teen about mental health and suicide. Don’t wait for your teen to come to you. If your teen is sad, anxious, depressed or appears to be struggling, ask what’s wrong and offer your support. Pay attention to what is not said.
If your teen is thinking about suicide, he or she is likely displaying warning signs. Listen to what your child is not saying and watch how he or she is acting. Never shrug off threats of suicide as teenage melodrama.
•Monitor and talk about social media use. Keep an eye on your teen’s social media accounts. While social media can give teens valuable support, it can also expose them to bullying, rumors spreading, unrealistic views of other people’s lives and peer pressure.
If your teen is hurt or upset by social media posts or messaging, encourage him or her to talk to you or a teacher. Feeling connected and supported at school can have a strong protective effect.
•Monitor medications. Although it’s uncommon, some teens might have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks after starting or a dose changed. But antidepressants are more likely to reduce suicide risk in the long run. Talk to your doctor about the risks associated with suicide and the use of antidepressants for a better understanding.
If you’re child, a loved one or anyone you know is the need of immediate help with suicide issues, the following are excellent sources for you to use in any life-threatening scenario or if you just wish to expand your knowledge on the subject.
The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988 or at www.988lifeline.org; the Jason Foundation can be reached at (800) 273-TALK or www.JasonFoundiation.com; or in cases of emergency, call 911 and my office will assist you.
Greg Capers is Sheriff of San Jacinto County.
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