As we tumble into fall, we are raising awareness on an issue that all should be mindful of–suicide prevention.
Suicide is a public health crisis. And for those who work with youth and young adults, it’s even more urgent. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in age groups 10-14,15-24 and 25-34, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, which makes it a critical issue for parents and other adults to understand. Suicide has no boundaries and affects all genders, ages, races and ethnic groups. One in five young people face mental health challenges and approximately 80% of teens who contemplate suicide want others to know about it and to stop them.
So, how can you help? We must take a multi-tiered approach: Identify, Respond and Follow Up*
Identify the warning signs: Look for feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, self-hatred, self-harm, sudden isolation, hurting others, anxiety or depression. Has the child or teen mentioned dying or disappearing? Has he lost interest in friends or activities? Have his sleep patterns changed? However, it’s important to note that not everyone who is contemplating suicide displays the same warning signs.
Respond to the person: If you’ve identified someone displaying the warning signs, assist them in seeking help. Put them in touch with a good local hotline such as PRS (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services 1-800-273-TALK). These organizations provide a full range of crisis services which can reduce suicides and provide treatment that focuses on underlying mental and/or substance use disorders as well.
Build in a follow-up: This is key! Having a safe support system that can continually direct them to a responsible outlet for their mental health challenges will help them tremendously on their road to developing more effective coping strategies and no longer seeing suicide as an option.
Call to Action: I urge you to not just keep these tips in mind during the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month, but please…be mindful of your children, neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. If any of them are showing signs that may be red flags at any time of the year, please call your local hotline today. You will make the difference in their life!
*Data taken from Suicide Prevention Resource Center
This week we welcome Gretchen E. Downey, Prevention Expert and Best-Selling Author, as she shares her expertise on preventing suicide in – and strengthening our communication with – the teenagers in our lives. This is the first post in a two-part series:
Our hearts ache when the tragedy of teen suicide occurs in our community. Is it preventable?
The American Psychological Association states that, although it’s difficult to predict, there are warning signals to watch for – and one should always seek professional or medical help when a child is suspected of being in danger:
Talking about dying – any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self harm
Recent loss – through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
Change in personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
Change in behavior – can’t concentrate on school, work, routine tasks
Change in sleep patterns – insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, nightmares
Change in eating habits – loss of appetite and weight, or overeating
Fear of losing control – acting erratically, harming self or others
Low self esteem – feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me”
No hope for the future – believing things will never get better; that nothing will ever change
So the million dollar question… “What’s going on – why the low emotions and why are they so prevalent causing 1 in 5 US teens to seriously consider suicide and 8% of teens to attempt suicide annually? That’s nearly one tenth of our young people feeling helpless, hopeless and like life has no meaning.
For over 50 years the internationally acclaimed Search Institute has conducted research on what kids and teens need to thrive and succeed in life. They report that well over 50 million of our young people are feeling helpless, hopeless and not connected to their inner “spark,” or what gives their life meaning, connection and fulfillment. According to the Search Institute the more developmental assets a person builds, the more likely they are to succeed in school and become happy, healthy and contributing members of their community and society.
Next week, we’ll explore the teenage brain and tangible steps adults can take to help the teenagers in our lives.
Now more than ever, we need to make sure that the teens in our lives feel supported and heard. Fear of the unknown and no hope for the future, as Gretchen points out, can lead teens to suicide. We must help them find their “spark” even during a time when we struggle ourselves. Intervening is important, but modeling self care and emotional regulation are also important. – Tracy Leonard, SCAN Public Education Coordinator]
How does it feel to be a kid in today’s world? How can we help children and teens manage new 21st-century realities — from the impact of online bullying to LGBTQ issues to the tragedy of rising suicide rates among youth? Earlier this month, we gathered in Arlington to discuss this new “Culture of Kids” with our Allies in Prevention Coalition.
Ask kids about their support network. (Explain what it means to have a support network, if they don’t know.) Who would they go to if they needed help? What is the best way to get in touch with those connections? Kids should be aware of and think through this network before a crisis occurs. EXPERT TIP:Identify trusted adults. It doesn’t have to be a parent – help them brainstorm possible contacts.
When it comes to bullying, peer training is key. Bullying prevention programs that include peer training – kids working with kids to model positive behaviors — are more successful and tend to increase parent involvement by linking families to community resources. EXPERT TIP:If online bullying is an issue and kids need help, there are some great resources for kids (and parents) at NCMEC’s NetSmartz.org
Gauge (and be sensitive to) every child’s safety level. When talking to youth, we must try to understand how safe they are in their home and in their greater community. (Neighborhood, school, etc.) For example, is it safe for a gay teenager to “come out” to her family? Her circle of friends? Her school community? Sensitivity when asking questions is also key: “Are you dating anyone?” is better than “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” Even intakes should be considered — instead of a simple “gender” it might work better to include “gender at birth; current gender.” EXPERT TIP: Post a rainbow or HRC (Human Rights Coalition) sticker in your workplace so LGBTQ youth recognize a person and/or space that could be helpful for them.
Don’t be afraid to have touch-point conversations with teens. And don’t be afraid to talk about difficult topics and open conversations around things like suicide: “Do you feel like hurting yourself?”, “Have you thought about killing yourself?” EXPERT TIP:Don’t talk about someone who “committed suicide” because it carries a note of guilt/crime. Instead, use “killed themselves” or “died by suicide.”