Teen Suicide: What are the causes and what could parents do to help their children?

According to the centers for disease control and prevention (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of for 15-24 year olds after accidents and homicide. However, the very fact cannot be denied that teenage is a stressful period because it is during this period when teens face drastic changes including the changes in their bodies, thoughts and feelings. They are often over-powered by the strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear, and doubt and an overwhelming pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically, and to act responsibly which adversely affect their problem solving and decision making abilities.

Adolescence is also a time when they may begin facing issues in relation to their sexual identity and often their relationships and may feel the need for independence that often conflicts with the rules and expectations set by others.

However, some factors often increase the risk of suicide among teens which may include:

  • A psychological disorder, especially depression, bipolar disorder, and alcohol and drug use (in fact, about 95% of people who die by suicide have a psychological disorder at the time of death)
  • Feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
  • A previous suicide attempt
  • A family history of depression or suicide
  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
  • Dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family or community or hostile school environment
  • Teens going through major life changes like-parents’ divorce, moving, a parent leaving home due to military service or parental separation, financial changes and those who are victims of bullying are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

The common warning signs of suicide may consist of :

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Acting-out behaviors and running away
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Neglecting one’s personal appearance
  • Unnecessary risk-taking
  • Obsession with death and dying
  • More physical complaints often linked to emotional distress, such as stomachaches, headaches, and extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Loss of interest in school or schoolwork
  • Feeling bored
  • Problems focusing
  • Feeling he or she wants to die
  • Lack of response to praise

Another warning sign is making plans or efforts toward committing suicide:

  • Says “I want to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide.”
  • Gives verbal hints, such as “I won’t be a problem much longer,” or “If anything happens to me, I want you to know ….”
  • Gives away favorite things or throws away important belongings
  • Becomes suddenly cheerful after being depressed
  • May express strange thoughts
  • Writes 1 or more suicide notes

These warning signs may also seem like other health problems. It’s better to have your teen see his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Overdose using over-the-counter prescription or non-prescription medicines is a very common method used for suicide by teens. Therefore, It is essential for the guardians to monitor all medications in their home carefully.

Suicide rates also differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by either overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often as compared to girls, perhaps, because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.

According to the interpersonal-psychological theory of suicide, an individual is likely to commit suicide only if he has the desire as well as the ability to do so. The theory comprises of an interaction between three major components, namely, perceived burdensomeness, sense of social alienation or lack of belonging and the acquired ability to enact lethal self-injury.

Perceived burdensomeness refers to a perception that one’s existence burdens family, friends, and/or society.  This view produces the idea that “my death will be worth more than my life to family, friends, society, etc.” 

A low sense of belongingness is the experience in which one is alienated from others, not an integral part of a family, circle of friends, or any other valued group. While feelings of burdensomeness and low belongingness may instill a desire to die, however, they are not sufficient enough to ensure if that desire will lead to a suicide attempt. Thus, in order for this to occur, the theory suggests that another element must also be present, i.e., the acquired ability for lethal self-injury. The basis for this proposition rests primarily on the principles of opponent-process theory, which suggests that with repeated exposure to an affective stimulus, the reaction to that stimulus shifts over time such that the stimulus loses its ability to elicit the original response and, instead, the opposite response gets strengthened. 

In light of this, it is hypothesized that the capability for suicide is acquired largely through repeated exposure to painful or fearsome experiences.  This results in habituation and, in turn, a higher tolerance for pain and a sense of fearlessness in the face of death. This acquired capability is viewed as a continuous construct, accumulating over the time with repeated exposure to salient experiences and influenced by the nature of those experiences such that more painful and provocative experiences will confer greater capacity for suicide. A clear implication of this is that past suicidal behavior will habituate individuals to the pain and fear of self-injury, making future suicidality, on an average, more likely.  Indeed, a history of suicide attempts has been found to be a strong predictor of future suicidal behavior including death by suicide.

What parents need to do?

It’s important for parents to know the warning signs so that the teens who might be suicidal can get the help they need.

Some adults feel that kids who say they are going to hurt or kill themselves are “just doing it for attention.” It’s important to realize that if teens are neglected when trying to seek attention, it may increase the chance of them harming themselves.

Getting attention in the form of ER visits, doctor’s appointments, and residential treatment generally is not something teens want — unless they’re seriously depressed and thinking about suicide or at least wishing they were dead. 

Watch and Listen

Keep a close eye on a teen who is depressed and withdrawn. Understanding depression in teens is very important since it can look different from commonly held beliefs about depression. For example, it may take the form of problems with friends, grades, sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying.

It’s important to try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you but for a teen it can feel immensely intolerable and consuming. It’s important not to overlook what your teen is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.

If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable talking with you, suggest a more neutral person, such as another relative, a coach, a school counselor, or your child’s doctor.

Ask Questions

Some parents are reluctant to ask teens if they have been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Some fear that by asking, they will plant the idea of suicide in their teen’s head.

It’s always a good idea to ask, even though doing so can be difficult. Sometimes it helps to explain why you’re asking. For instance, you might say: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?”

Helping Teens Cope With Loss

if someone your teen knows, perhaps a family member, friend, or a classmate, has attempted or committed suicide, it may create an adverse impact over your child’s mind. First, acknowledge your child’s feelings and emotions.

 Reassure your child that there is no right or wrong way to feel, and that it’s OK to talk about it when he or she feels ready.

When someone attempts suicide and survives, people might be afraid of or uncomfortable talking with him or her about it. Tell your teen to resist this urge; this is a time when a person absolutely needs to feel connected to others.

Get Help

If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, get help immediately. Your doctor can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or your local hospital’s department of psychiatry can provide a list of doctors in your area. Your local mental health association or county medical society can also provide references.

To conclude, it is very important to have a healthy relation with your ward, having conversations where they speak more and you listen to make sure that he or she is emotionally and mentally safe and sound.

# Content Created By Akanksha Mahajan

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