Many of us don’t understand how a young person could take his or her own life, but youth suicide is a public health problem. For the information on this webpage, we will consider anyone 24 and younger a young adult. Approximately 1,200 teenagers die by suicide each year in the United States. Nationally suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. In North Dakota, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. While youth suicide is relatively rare, it is important to be aware of. Nationally children much younger than 10 have completed suicide.
Again the question remains, why would someone want to die by suicide? The answer is complex. Teens and young adults who consider suicide sometimes have chemical imbalances that cause mental illnesses. Other causes can be the pressures teens and young adults put on themselves or pressures they feel from their parents. The bottom line is teens and young adults that die by suicide are in great emotional pain. There are ways to prevent someone from completing suicide. Knowing the warning signs and risk factors is a huge first step. Teens may know their friends better than anyone else, which means they are in a great position to notice changes in behavior in their friends and spot warning signs of suicide.
One way to reduce teen suicide is to reduce access to means. Nationally over 50 percent of teen suicides are completed by firearms. Firearms and ammunition should always be stored and locked separately. It is also important to store the keys away from children.
Boys and girls differ in suicide rates. Girls have historically and continue to think of suicide more than boys. Boys, however, tend to complete suicide more often than girls. This could be due to the fact that girls tend to attempt suicide by overdosing and cutting themselves, and boys tend to use more lethal methods like firearms and hanging themselves.
Preventing youth suicide
If you notice warning signs of suicide in your child, there are things you can do. The first is to talk to your child and listen non-judgmentally to his or her responses.
Protective factors can decrease the risk of suicide. Enhancing or reinforcing protective factors can help make a person safer.Some protective factors may include:
- Family support.
- Social support.
- Involvement in the community.
- Religious connections.
- Social interaction with others.
Signs that your child may be struggling with suicide are:
- Threatening to hurt or kill himself or herself.
- Seeking out lethal means such as firearms, medications and other items.
- Talking or writing excessively about death.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Anxiety, agitation, trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time.
- Feelings of purposelessness.
- Feelings of being trapped.
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol.
- Withdrawal from friends.
- Rage, uncontrolled anger, expressions of wanting or seeking revenge.
- Dramatic mood changes.
Talking about suicide
Talking to your child about suicide is scary – really scary. It's important to know that talking about suicide will not cause your child to complete suicide. By approaching the subject with your child, you give him or her permission to talk to you in that moment or in the future about suicide or other topics that concern him or her. One of the highest protective factors is feeling that one person understands and relates to a person who may be thinking of suicide.
Talking about suicide with your child will never be easy, but below are some things you can do to make it a little easier:
- Be prepared. Have an idea of the points you want to touch on in the conversation.
- Listen to your child. This will facilitate the conversation and make it less of a lecture and more of a conversation.
- Be honest. You don't have to have all the answers. It's okay to say “I don't know.”
- If your child expresses suicidal statements, tell him or her that you will be there through the process of getting help.
- Keep material age appropriate but factual. Suicide at any age is difficult to understand, but using correct terminology reduces stigma and confusion.
- Setting and timing matter. It's best to have this conversation in a quiet setting and in a calm manner that will facilitate communication.
Telling your child that someone died by suicide is another difficult task you might be faced with. The same points as above are good points to keep in mind when relaying this information. It is also important to offer to go to the funeral with your child to provide emotional support.
Information adapted from the American Association of Suicidology and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.