Posted by: counselorcarmella | September 15, 2011

The Tragedy of Teen Suicide

When I was in high school, my friend Rick committed suicide.  He ran track, played JV football,  sang at church, and had lots of friends and a nice girlfriend.  Rick shot himself.  I have worked with a number of  high school and college aged girls who have attempted suicide.  Usually, they  took pills. I’ve talked to  teenagers who’s friends have committed suicide. Songs like “How To Save A Life” by the Fray and “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry make it clear that  suicide  and death are topics young people are dealing with  more often than anyone would like to  think.


Between 1999 and 2007, a total of 38,988 young people aged 10-24 died by suicide, translating to nearly 4,400 deaths in this age group every year. That’s according to the CDC. Data from the 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that in the previous year:

15% of responding US high school students had serious thoughts of killing themselves,

11% made a suicide plan,

7% attempted suicide,


Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of  10 and 24 and the second leading cause of death for college students. It is the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 14. Girls attempt more often, but boys are more successful because they use more lethal methods.  Four out of five teens who  commit suicide have attempted before. Being close to someone who has killed themselves may make a teen more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide.


Today,  teens face a lot of pressures. Distracted parents are not always as aware as they could be about what is going on with their kids.  Conflict, family problems, and transitions around divorces and remarriages and stepsiblings can be extremely difficult for teens.  Bullying, particularly cyber bullying, can  push a vulnerable teenager to the point of looking for any way out. Rejection by  a friend, a group of friends, or a girl or boyfriend can  leave a teen devastated. Feeling very alone and unwanted leads some teens to contemplate  suicide. Sexuality issues or dealing with  the ongoing impact of childhood abuse can make teens more  vulnerable to depression and thoughts of suicide. Embarrassment  or shame  when private matters become public  can  make a teen  want to escape the humiliation or judgment. This can involve  untrue gossip,  actual  behaviors that lead to legal problems, or   something a person did while drinking or using drugs that they later regret.   They don’t want to face friends and other peers who  know about  what happened.  Substance abuse and eating disorders occur at alarming rates in teenagers and young adults and   many mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety,  or bipolar disorder, begin to  appear  during adolescence and young adulthood.


These are  problems many teens face that can cause  stress and  difficult feelings.  For some teenagers, though,  problems can get to be too much and they may contemplate suicide. Most of the time, if a teen is thinking about it, they say or do something to let on. In 4 out of 5 cases, the teenager has  exhibitted warning signs.  Some signs are more subtle, like being withdrawn or seeming sad and disinterested in things he or she used to enjoy.  Changes in grades or  reckless behaviors may be warning signs.   Changes in dress, music,  or writings about  death or other dark themes may be  red flags. Self-destructive behaviors involving substances, cutting,  or other dangerous activities may indicate  that something bigger is going on.  The vast majority of teens who  consider or attempt suicide are suffering from clinical depression.  


Some teens make statements like, “Things would be better for everyone if I wasn’t here,” or “Its just not worth it.” Such comments may be  ways  of attempting to communicate  about  thoughts of death or suicide.  Sometimes, a teenager will talk about the music they want played at their funeral or will want to talk a lot about death. Some teens come right out and say they want to   be dead or that they’re thinking about “doing something” to themselves.   Other times,  teenagers make their thoughts and  plans explicit by  posting them on FaceBook or  email.  Some teens confide in  friends who will hopefully let their friend’s parents or  a teacher or guidance counselor know what’s going on.  Its better to have an angry friend than a dead friend.


Whether signs are subtle or obviously stated, if you’re concerned about  a child or a child’s friend,  bring up the topic in an honest and calm way. Statements like, “I’m worried about you” can be a good place to start. Talking with  teens about  suicide does not increase their chances of making an attempt.  Its okay to come right out and ask about it. Any conversation about death or suicide should be taken seriously.  It is important to listen and ask questions and to  let the person know you care and that they are not alone.  Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel that way  or that  you  “know” they  would never do something like that.  Try and understand their feelings and  to stay nonjudgmental and curious.  Let them know you’ll  help them get help for how they’re feeling.   


Most communities have crisis numbers that can be called to talked with someone about what’s going on.  The person you speak with can help you decide whether the teen needs to be taken directly to a hospital for evaluation or  if they can  be scheduled to see a mental health professional during the next couple days.


The Jason Foundation


was founded in 1997 by Clark Flatt after his teenaged son, Jason, committed suicide. Jason seemed like a totaly normal kid. It came as a shock  to  his family and friends when Jason shot himself.  The Jason Foundation exists to raise awareness about teen suicide.   Representatives  present information at schools, social service agencies, churches, and other organizations.  Their goal is  that professionals and the general public will know more about  the epidemic of suicide,  warning signs,  and how teens contemplating suicide can be helped.  There is information on their website for teachers, parents, counselors, and teens.


Teen Screen

The TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups began 12 years ago as the Columbia University TeenScreen Program, a school- and community-based initiative to screen adolescents for signs of mental illness and risk of suicide.


The American Foundation for Suicide  Prevention


works  to conduct research, educate, and influence  public policy  regarding suicide prevention.  They also are closely involved with the families and loved ones of people who have committed suicide.  They sponsor the  annual “Out of the Darkness” walk to  honor  those who have died from suicide and to raise awareness about the realities of suicide and  its impact on family and friends.


If you, or someone you know, is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).





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