"I just want to die. Put a gun to my head and BANG!" Disturbing words to hear, more so when they are spoken by a youth who has his or her entire life ahead. We tend to shrug it off as just one of those crazy things teens say, they couldn't really mean it. Or could they?
Talking about suicide is one of the warning signs that someone is in need of help. In fact, it is an in-your-face cry for help, yet often it goes unheeded. Couple this with a youth's overriding sense of helplessness and feeling that there is no hope for improvement, and you have a deadly cocktail. Sudden mood changes, an angry youth becomes sedate and pliant, or gives up something they really love and withdraws from typical social circles are also signs that something is seriously wrong.
No, not every threat of suicide becomes action, but it needs to be taken seriously and consideration given to the other warning signs. Furthermore, statistics show that for every successful suicide there are twenty-five that failed. One child, one sister, one brother, one future gone. When it comes to suicide, spoken is as good as done.
Suicide is on the rise especially among girls. While more girls attempt suicide than boys, it has traditionally been more boys who have used lethal methods, therefore completing their attempts. A gun in the mouth is almost certain death, whereas girls have traditionally used poison and pills, often being discovered before completion. That is changing. More girls are now choosing lethal methods and with the availability of prescription drugs in many homes, both boys and girls are turning to them for a cheap out.
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24.
Youth consider suicide for a number of reasons. Today's youth have enormous pressure placed on them at the family and academic levels. Family structure and transition such as violence and death in a family can overload today's youth. The teen years bring with them an onset of chemical imbalances, and can also be the first manifestations of mental illness. Youth from homes where there is a family history of attempted or completed suicide use this as a model for coping with pressure. Remember, teens are in a vulnerable place in life where they are experiencing severe changes in their physique as well as chemical, academic, and family changes. They are being asked to make decisions about their futures when for many the present is unstable enough. And if the teen has mental or emotional disabilities, or has experienced trauma, then these changes are doubled or tripled. The teen years can be overwhelming.
What can you do? Be there and listen. Talk about the issues and don't be afraid to discuss suicide. Bonnie Collins, co-author of "Working with Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse" called this breaking the secret. As parents and caregivers, we need to set in motion a trusting relationship and open communication, but it begins in early childhood. If we have not had this kind of relationship with our children at an early age, we cannot really expect it to happen in the chaotic teens years. If you cannot be there for this youth, then make sure they have someone responsible they can rely on, a teacher, a relative, a minister, a counselor. Do not feel slighted that you have to give this duty to someone else, instead realize that it might save this child.
What to look for: If a child talks about suicide even in passing, listen and measure other warning signs. Hopelessness, helplessness, mood changes and withdrawal.
Get help for the youth and the family, everyone will go through this together.
Buffalo and Western New York is fortunate to have Crisis Services. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at their hotline number 716-834-3131.