May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as a Licensed Professional Counselor who
works with teens and their families, I wanted to bring attention to a difficult topic that can be concerning for moms — that is, the unbearable tragedy of teen suicide.
Teen Suicide Statistics
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18.
- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.
- Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,041 attempts by young people grades 9-12. If these percentages are additionally applied to grades 7 & 8, the numbers would be higher.
- Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.
What can moms do to help their teens?
The hardest thing about teen suicide, is that warning signs can often mimic “typical teen behaviors.”
Things like isolation, moodiness, not being motivated, taking risks, using alcohol or drugs, difficulty concentrating or focusing, poor hygiene, or statements like “I hate my life,” can all be a normal part of the teen years — however, they can also be signs that your teen may be struggling with depression and/or suicidal thoughts.
So, how can mom’s know if their teen is “just being a teenager” or something more?
Look for a persistent pattern. If the signs are persisting over a period of time, several of these signs appear at the same time, and the behavior is “out of character” for your teen, then concern is justified.
If clear signs are present, seek professional help immediately. Clear warning signs include:
- Recent life challenges. If a teen has experienced recent life challenges or stressors, they may be vulnerable to depression and/or thoughts of suicide. These challenges include bullying, poor academic performance, and/or experiencing a recent loss – a loved one, relationship, and so on.
- Direct or indirect talk about suicide. Talk of suicide can be verbal (for example, statements like, “I’d be better off dead”) and non-verbal (think pictures on social media, drawings, poetry, and so on). Those who reference suicide are 30 times more likely to kill themselves. Any references to suicide, even if said jokingly, should be taken seriously.
- Making final arrangements. Once the decision has been made to end their life, some teens begin making final arrangements including giving away belongings and saying goodbye to family and friends.
Stay connected. Observe and listen to your teen. Be mindful of sudden changes in their behavior that cause you concern. It’s important to talk openly and honestly with your teen and offer support. Listen and validate your teen’s thoughts and feelings. Validation is simply reflecting back or expressing understanding of what your teen is saying. It’s important to note that validation is not stating that you agree with their thoughts or emotions.
Get support. Be willing to seek professional support if you feel your teen is becoming depressed or contemplating hurting themselves — even if your teen denies struggling with these thoughts or feelings. Make an appointment with a professional counselor who specializes in working with teens who struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Please know that it is important that you get support as a parent of a teen who is struggling, too. Neither you nor your teen have to struggle alone.
Suicidal thoughts or actions (even in very young children) are a sign of extreme distress and should not be ignored.
If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Text Line: text “home” to 741741.
Learn more about ways you can help someone who might be at risk for self-harm.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html on May 23, 2019.
The Parent Resource Program. Facts. Retrieved online from http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/ on May 23, 2019.