Each year, September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide ranks among the top leading causes of death globally. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15 -29 globally.
There are a few reasons why teenagers are more susceptible than adults to commit suicide. The following are the most common ones, that are worth parents’ and teachers’ attention:1.Teenagers are more emotional and impulsive than adults. The action of suicide is highly correlated with impulsivity. The development of the part of the brain that regulates teenagers’ emotions and impulses, the prefrontal cortex, lags behind that of the part of the brain that feels and stores emotions. Simply put, teenagers experience sadness more intensely and it’s biologically difficult for them to regulate these emotions.
2.Teenagers who experience bullying or cyberbullying have a higher risk of suicide-related behaviors, including suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, and (the action of) suicide. Adolescence is a period when our children are trying to explore their self-identity, and peer relationships are considered important to their self-value. Verbal or physical violence towards a teenager can be very detrimental, as it can make them feel isolated and hopeless.
3.With technological advancements, exposure to different media messages has also become one of the risks that can lead to teen suicide. Cyberbullying is one of the factors that can increase the risk of suicidal tendencies. Moreover, social media has imposed enormous pressure on teens to live up to unattainable standards. The rising rates of eating disorders among many teenage girls, due to a media culture that endorses an unrealistic body shape, is just one example of the impact the media can have on teenagers’ well-being.
4.An unstable or inconsistent environment can generate stress for many teens, which can lead to a higher risk of suicide. To mature, children and teens need a sense of security, which usually comes from a familiar family and school environment, as well as stable family members, friends and schools. Stability helps teens feel they are in control of the environment. One example of a drastic change of environment is relocating to an entirely different country. Adapting to a completely new culture, language, people, and surroundings without adequate support may trigger significant emotional stress. Teenagers may feel lonely but not know how to ask for help in a completely foreign environment. This can pose an even higher risk if they have previously suffered from mental illness or have an undiagnosed mental illness.
So, what are the red flags? How can we, as educators and parents, spot warning signs that our teenagers might be suicidal?
1.Talking or writing about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”.
2.Withdrawal from peers and other social contacts, especially if they usually enjoy being with friends.
3.Expressing that they feel trapped or hopeless about a situation.
4.Exhibiting symptoms of depression and/or extreme mood swings.
5.Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
6.Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done.
7.Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above (signs taken from the Mayo Clinic)
The warning signs that a teenager may be suicidal cannot be emphasized enough. As a parent or educator, you sometimes DO need to trust your gut. When you notice something is off or wrong with a teenager, don’t ignore it, simply ask them if there is something wrong. If you suspect that the teenager is suicidal, talk to them immediately. Don ‘t be afraid to use the word “suicide”. Ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. Some people have the misconception that talking about suicide may plant the seed of suicide in the other’s head, which is untrue.
Another misconception is that when a rebellious teen talks about suicide or killing themselves, they are doing so to seek attention. While it may be true that teens sometimes exaggerate their feelings, talk of suicide is something that should always be taken seriously. We as parents and educators never want to take any risks. Therefore, when your teen says anything that may be relevant to suicide, take it seriously and talk to him or her.
“Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Plain and straight. Don’t be angry or impatient if your teen simply dismisses it. If they are experiencing suicidal thoughts, they are in incredible distress. Be patient, acknowledge their feelings, any feelings, and be there for them.
If your teenager does tell you that he or she is suicidal, or even if they say no but you are still worried, bring your teenager to a qualified psychiatric professional. The doctor or psychologist will conduct a comprehensive suicide assessment for your teenager. For the risk of suicide, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
ELG provides professional mental health counselling services for both children and adults. We provide comprehensive assessments and therapy services are offered in multiple languages. If you are worried about a student or child that may be suicidal, please book an appointment with us now!