In the last year, it seems like our community has experienced more than its share of adolescent suicide. Each death tears at us, and brings fear to our hearts. We worry about each and every one of our children.
The facts and figures of suicide are daunting. Based on the last survey completed in 2013, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted there were 41,149 deaths attributed to suicide (as compared to 30,000 plus deaths related to auto accidents). It’s the tenth leading cause of death. The suicide rate went down slightly between 1986-2000, but has risen again since then. In 2013, adults between the ages of 45-64 years of age experienced the highest rate of suicide. Older adults, 85 and up, had the second highest rate of suicide. Teens had the lowest rate. Ironically, growing older increases the risk of death by suicide.
Males have 4 times the rate of suicide than females. Firearms account for the largest percentage of these deaths at 51%, with suffocation coming second at close to 25% and poisoning at 16.1%. The ratio of suicide attempts or gestures to suicide death in teens is 25:1.
There are many factors that are associated with a completed suicide—history of past suicide attempts, use of disinhibiting drugs (tranquilizers, alcohol, or narcotics), depression, traumatic loss or life change, family history of completed suicide, access to weapons or other means of self-harm, impulsivity, unstable mental status, lack of social support, and the individuals perception of their future. Adolescents are by nature, impulsive. Their brains are not yet fully developed.
While teens may have the lowest suicide rate, their deaths often have the greatest impact on their families, friends, and community. We are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of our children. Yet, communicative and connected children can become disgruntled, withdrawn teens that don’t talk to their parents about what they are thinking or feeling. When children hit adolescence, it’s as if they descend into an underground tunnel beneath us. We know that they’re there, but we can’t see or hear them. Periodically, they pop up as their old child like selves, but then quickly disappear from view again. We worry who and what will emerge when they are 20!
Luckily our kids’ friends know what they’re up to. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media tell all. It’s a good thing, because otherwise we might be clueless to what’s going on in their lives. But their peer group may feel that they have to protect the privacy of their buddies. Fortunately, many kids do alert parents and adults when their friends are in trouble.
What can parents do?
Take self-harm and suicidal talk seriously. When you discover signs of self-harm (cutting) or suicidal talk, make an appointment for them to see a mental health professional. Ask their health care provider for a referral. It’s important for kids to realize that we will take action on their behalf, even if they downplay their intent. Let an objective professional decide if it’s serious or not.
Keep your eyes and ears open. Be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of unusual behavior, changes in school performance, big friendship changes, or secretive behavior. While controversial, I think it’s okay to be something of a snoop. It’s better to get in trouble with your teen for looking over their shoulder than to be clueless about their circumstances. Parents have to balance on the tight rope of respecting their youngster’s privacy and insuring their safety.
Spend time with your kids. This is tough, because teens lose interest in hanging out with their parents. I used to take my girls to breakfast, because at least they still liked to eat, with or without me! I would offer to take them to the mall, even though I hated to go shopping. I focused on their interests and hoped I could tag along. Time together creates opportunities for talk. Staying in touch with your teen is the best insurance policy for their safety.
Make sure that guns are locked away and that children have zero access. This is important. Kids can have very bad moments that will pass. During those instants, access to weapons can be lethal.
What do you think?