Teen Suicide: Is Your Child At Risk?

Join us at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital for our informative Preventing Youth Suicide workshop on November 3, 2010 from 6:30-8:30 PM. Click here for info and directions.

One can expect to find depressing news when checking Web feeds or the national news, but in recent months the rise in stories of teenagers committing suicide has left people around the country distraught and saddened. The recent events surrounding the death of Tyler Clementi, a promising musician and students at Rutgers, have inspired friends and even celebrities to publicly call for a way to prevent future, needless deaths. To paraphrase Ellen DeGeneres on speaking of these recent suicides, when one teen kills himself it’s a tragedy, when several do it’s a crisis.

As the parent of a teenager, you may be able to empathize with your child, having lived through awkward years and what appeared at the time to be an inordinate amount of stress. From age ten through college, young people are subject to various degrees of pressure – the drive to do well in school, the desire to be accepted among their peers, and goals to succeed in sports and music and other passions. When things don’t seem to go their way, despondence can lead some to believe the only solution is to remove themselves permanently from the situation, and from life.

To work toward preventing teen suicide, it’s important to understand what prompts a young person to consider it, and follow through. Some events that may lead to a teen taking his own life include:

1) Persistent bullying. Sadly, recent news items has shown a rise in this behavior. Teens who are teased for their religious affiliation, sexual orientation, weight, economic status, and other reasons may allow the taunts to set in and consume them. Some, like Phoebe Prince, decide there is no relief from the cruel banter.

2) Depression and similar disorders. Teenagers who suffer from clinical depression or other mental illnesses tend to be at higher risk. Minor problems like failing a test or getting cut from a sports team can loom as greater problems that prove too much to bear.

3) Unrelated illness or accidents. Some teenagers who survive accidents and are scarred, or lose a limb, may think themselves permanently damaged or useless, and choose death over a life of disability.

4) Problems at home. Parents’ divorce, financial problems, and the death of a loved one have been attributed to some teen self-inflicted deaths. If a sibling or parent dies suddenly, for example, the ensuing depression and grief can drive one to find peace in such a manner.

Granted, teens who have endured one of the above may not consider suicide, yet if you have concerns about the mental behavior of your child, it’s important to look for signs and take measures to get your child the help he needs to work through his problems. Some things to watch for include:

1) Obvious changes in behavior at home and school. Does your child appear moodier and quieter? Perhaps he is less willing to participate in school events or socialize, and maybe his grades have taken a serious downturn.

2) Loss of interest in activities. If your child once lived for playing a favorite sport or musical instrument but no longer practices or plays, this should clue you in that something is amiss.

3) Changes in appearance. Your teen may not be as meticulous in dress and grooming, or have less of an appetite. Such self-deprecating behavior may suggest apathy toward life in general.

4) Extreme, unusual behavior and dialogue. Listen to your teen. If you start hearing suggestions that they world is better off without them, or vocal wishes to die, do not dismiss them as mere angst. If you notice your teen has been giving away prized possessions, it may indicate a “settling of affairs” before they take action.

While the aforementioned signs are indicative of other behaviors, it’s safe to take action and talk with your teenager. If you are unable to get him to open up to you, consult with a professional who specializes in suicide prevention.

Above all else, be there and let your child know he is loved, and what problems he experiences now will fade in relevance and severity in time. A popular mantra goes, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Make sure they know that.

Kathryn Lively writes about Virginia Beach healthcare and Norfolk hospitals.

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