This article provides a brief over view about youth and suicide, the sensitivity of the topic due to taboo, linked to stigma, shame and guilt and what we as communities can do to help save the lives of our teenagers.
There is an urgent need to increase the knowledge of parents, community members and other stakeholders who have vested interest in ensuring that young people live healthy lives and reach their potential. Additional community mental health resources are required to save lives.
Knowledge is a very powerful tool as indicated by this mother’s story:
An anxious mother found out that her 15-year-old son was having suicidal thoughts and she took him to the hospital for help. There was no mental health specialist on duty that evening so she was advised to take him home and keep an eye on him. She was given an appointment to attend with her son at the community clinic the following morning.
She stayed up until midnight to keep an eye on her son. He fell asleep at midnight across the hallway from her bedroom. At 4 a.m. she was so tired, she went to asleep in her own bed. She was jarred awake by a thump from the attic but she thought she was dreaming and immediately went back to sleep.
On awakening at 7 a.m., she went to see her son and he was not in his bedroom. She ran to the attic and found him on the floor with a rope around his neck. He had hung himself. She later reflected on what was meant to keep an eye on him.
Large numbers of our teens are suffering in shame and silence, so afraid to tell anyone about their inner fears. In a 2016 Kids Help Phone survey of 1,319 teens between the age of 13 – 18 across Canada, 22% or one in every five teen reported that each had contemplated suicide and 10% had detailed plans on how to carry out their suicide.
There are many myths surrounding the topic of suicide. Each of us has a responsibility to look behind these myths to find the truth so that we can help to shape our society. We must ensure that our adolescents who feel terrible isolated, have a mental health challenges, being bullied and may be considering ending such psychological pain by suicide, are supported with alternatives.
Adolescence is a time of dramatic changes. Growing from a young child to a teen can be complex and challenging. Teens feel tremendous pressure to succeed in school, at home and in their social groups. They lack life experiences that let them know that difficult situations do not last forever. The act of suicide represents a final desperate attempt by a young person at some type of resolution to what he or she perceives to be an unsolvable trouble. It is a complex phenomenon, determined by multiple factors intersecting at one point during the life of that teen.
Young people rarely think about suicide:
The Canadian survey of teens using the Kids Help Line clearly shows that many teens have considered taking their own lives and some have concrete plans on how to do so.
Talking about suicide will give young people the idea or permission to commit suicide:
Nothing could be further from the truth. Talking calmly about suicide without fear and judgment can bring relief to a teen who is very afraid to have such a discussion. The minds of some adolescents are not developed to think of alternatives.
Suicide is sudden and unpredictable:
Most often suicide is a process, not an event. The youth may have been thinking about this for sometime. Research has shown that eight out of every ten teens who die by suicide gave some or even many indications of their intentions. When you know a teen, you can see the change, some are subtle, some are pronounced. Some teens are not as happy attending school as before, may be sleeping more or less number of hours, may even say “I feel down and not to worry about me”, may feel sad and hopeless and avoid social situations.
Suicidal youth are openly seeking attention and try to manipulate others:
Efforts from a teen to grab attention or manipulate others should always be taken seriously. A teen may say to a parent “ I love my girlfriend so much, if she leaves me I am going to kill myself”. This teen may be having an overwhelming desire to escape the emotional situation and knows no other alternative way to do so. Sharing this is a way of bringing this emotion to someone’s attention and should be a cause for concern and not be ignored.
A suicidal youth will always be at risk for committing suicide:
Most of these desires can be eliminated by addressing the underlying mental health issues, learning effective coping techniques and to feel supported by a counselors, family and peers. A very small percentage will go on to commit suicide if the underlying cause such as a mental illness is not managed well. The clinician will look at what is the likelihood for reoccurrence of the overwhelming feelings, events or actions that led to the problem.
Most youth do not want to kill themselves; they are seeking help. For every completed suicide by a young person there are at least 20 attempts. Males are more successful in completing suicide attempts due to the violent methods used such as hanging and firearms. Girls tend to use less fatal methods such as overdoses.