The objective of this article is to point out some warning signs for teens who may try suicide with the hope of preventing some deaths.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Summary: Many adolescents die who really did not mean to complete the act. Seasons play a role some of the time. Family situations of loss and feelings of hopelessness are major factors. Boys tend to use more violent means than girls, overall. Teens who are looking unsuccessful, or sometimes enormously successful may be risks. If a teen is giving away possessions suddenly this is often a clue. This article seeks to explain what family and friends might watch for as clues to prevent disaster.
Those who are familiar with the clues for adolescent suicide may be able to save a life. Knowing something about the time of greatest danger may help. Spring, April, most especially, is the time of year when depression is most likely to occur and suicides increase. Why?
Suicidal and depressed people feel “dead” and cold and empty inside. In spring, things are blooming, warm outside, alive and changing. The contrast makes many depressed people feel out of step with the world.
On the other side of things, dying leaves and colder temperatures, darker and bleaker days, as in the fall, reinforce the bleakness and emptiness that depressed people feel. Therefore, suicide is also high in the fall.
Teenage boys who attempt suicide often turn to violent and therefore, more lethal means. They seem to gravitate to guns-usually their father’s if there is one (possibly a sign of masculinity), hanging, or jumping from roofs. Such methods don’t give a lot of opportunity for rescue.
Girls are more apt to use poisons or pills (especially sleeping pills or aspirin) or to slash their wrists. These means provide more opportunity for helpers to intervene. The statistics demonstrate these issues: girls comprise some three-quarters of teenage suicide attempters, while the rate of completed suicides among boys is almost four times as high as that of the girls.
The reality is that ambivalence is always present in suicidal teenagers. They both wish to live and they wish to die. This is so strong that many suicides are found dead with the telephone receiver in their hand. There is another hope that the suicide note, if left, will be found in time to save the victim.
It is important for parents to understand that suicidal adolescents are at the greatest risk in their own homes. This is where nine out of ten suicide attempts take place. About one-fourth of all suicide attempters have tried it before. These are often impulsive individuals and many of these deaths are really accidental.
Many youngsters really don’t intend to die but something goes wrong–they make a mistake on the amount of poison they ingest and help doesn’t arrive in time, or they climb onto a high ledge and slip. But the intent may change or the suicide attempt may actually be a failure of a serious intention to commit suicide. Any teenager who has tried suicide on a prior occasion is a serious risk and expert professional help should be found.
Alcohol certainly clouds judgment for anyone. Drugs do as well. However, contrary to what might be thought, the majority of suicidal teenagers are not drug users. Drug taking today tends to be a shared experience. Suicidal youngsters, on the other hand, are more likely to be socially isolated, have few friends, and a poor ability to communicate with others.. They tend to be out of step with their peers or behind them socially or occupationally. The easy availability of drugs, however, explains why their use in adolescent suicides has increased.
Depression has been found in adolescent teens to be second only to colds and coughs in frequency. Certainly, depression in teens does not always mean suicide. However, it is a factor in a great many teen deaths and should not be ignored. Any teen experiencing depression for any prolonged period of time should see a psychotherapist.
Losses are a big issue. Loss of a father especially though losses of a mother are also big issues. Loss of the father may trigger more hopelessness as fathers tend to be gone more than mothers–(though both may fall into this category) and therefore the relationship with teens may be less worked out. In any event, the importance to the teen of the person who dies or leaves is critical in understanding the degree of the loss to him or her. There are also losses of confidence, self-esteem, or a job. The three signs almost always present in suicidal children are haplessness, helplessness and hopelessness. Haplessness means that things go wrong, there are a series of bad breaks, for example. The helplessness is characterized by the individual’s inability to deal with his or her problems. With such a series of events, hopelessness may develop.
It is a myth that those who talk about suicide don’t do it. Research has demonstrated that thee is a three-stage progression to the suicide attempt: emotional problems starting in childhood; a build-up period when adolescent developmental tasks bring on new problems for the teen, and the final days or weeks before the suicidal action.
In the first stage, the long-standing problems centered around divorce, separation, or death at home. In abut 50% of these, a relative or close friend had demonstrated problem-solving by committing suicide. In more than half of these cases, a parent had married more than once. There was a history of unexpected separations from meaningful social relationships in their early lives.
In the escalation of the second stage, the parents or relatives try unsuccessfully to deal with the pressures of the turbulence of the adolescent’s current stage of teen-age hood. He or she has arrived there without the necessary foundation to deal with the stresses. The teen, feeling misunderstood and unfairly punished, may seek parental attention by rebelling, withdrawing, lying, or running away. When these acts fail to banish the pressures, the teenager may make suicidal attempts to gain attention-possibly explained as gaining attention to the pain being experienced. If this fails as well, completed suicide may be the only out that the teen sees.
By the time that the final stage is reached, social relationships with the parent may have totally stopped. A romance may have been the only connection left. If it fails, the teen becomes totally isolated.
Anger is also an issue. The teen–and older people as well–may fantasize that they will be present when found–though dead–and then everyone who wronged them will be sorry. The fantasy does not account for the idea that they will be just that, dead. And they won’t know how it all turned out. The anger can be thought of as being aimed at whoever is likely to find them.
Other factors include a lack of involvement in school activities outside the classroom. This is a form of isolation. Children who attempted suicide had no close friends much of the time. A crucial difference between teens who tried suicide but did not complete it and those that were successful is the presence of someone to whom the youngsters felt close, someone who could share their inner thoughts and with whom they felt close.
Even before the actual attempt, many youngsters give verbal clues. They may talk about another youngster’s suicidal thoughts or inquire about what happens after death. They may make hopeless remarks like stating that they “can’t take it anymore”–they may discuss the legal disposition of personal property or the handling of documents or wills.
The very act that a teenager suddenly cannot talk to his or her parents may also indicate a very serious problem. many teens give no verbal warning at all. Only their actions give the warning. These teens may show abrupt changes of behavior. They may withdraw, reduce eating or sleeping, look generally sad, ignore things that might otherwise be sexually stimulating. Anxiety and tension may also increase, while general performance and school work drop sharply. Loved belongings are given away and any attempt to secure a means for suicide such as a gun, sleeping pills, or a rope, should be curtailed.
There is also the danger that the decision to die makes the potential victim feel better. The decision causes a lightening of the pressure and helps to carry out the act.
Any of these signs warrant a reason to seek a skilled professional immediately. It is critical not to leave a potential suicide victim alone for any reason. The family can organize to take turns sitting with the teen, emphasizing that suicide is out–not a possibility–and the teen is important enough for everyone to collaborate to sit with him or her. The surrounding by family often helps to break the isolation and signal to the teen that he is really not alone and that others are there to help him.