Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Not only are those of us who have lost someone reminded to light a candle in memory of our loved ones, but we are encouraged to try to help with suicide awareness.
I started reading about suicide (especially teenage suicide) to heal after the death of my son five years ago and was amazed at the amount of information that is available. But how many of us would seek out that information, unless we had a good reason to do so?
Suicide is more often than not an impulsive act, and who is more impulsive than a teenager? Their brains are not fully developed (that does not happen until about age 25) and are, therefore, not always able to foresee the consequences of their actions.
Never is that more tragic than when they decide they don’t really want to live anymore. We have all had bad days, but we know they don’t last forever. To many teenagers, however, things are much more black and white. If life is bad today, it always will be.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, the third leading cause among people ages 15-24, and the fifth leading cause among children ages 5-14.
I find it terribly sad that children as young as that are even thinking about taking their lives. One in 10 high school students has a suicide plan, statistics show, and that number goes up among college students. Young females attempt suicide much more often than males, but males complete six times as often as females.
Among the risk factors are: mental illness; drug and/or alcohol use; previous suicide attempts; continuous self-injury (e.g. cutting); risky behavior; a family history of suicide or mental illness; the availability of firearms in the home; physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Lately, there have been far too many cases of suicides after bullying.
To a teenager, the break-up of a relationship, bad grades, an unplanned pregnancy, a fight with a friend, not being accepted by their first choice of college may easily become reasons not to want to live anymore. And (as was the case with my son) they seek help from the wrong people.
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Their peers may well be willing to listen, but they aren’t exactly equipped to offer the right kind of help. A professional (and, strange as it may seen, even a parent) is a much better choice. And, of course, there is the suicide hotline (1-800-784-2433 and 1-800-273-8255 and the number for hearing-impaired people: 1-800-799-4889).
Here is a link to several other hotlines, including some just for youth, college students, veterans, post partum mothers, and gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual youth. At the bottom of this website are numbers for help lines in California: suicidehotlines.com/ california.html.
How can you tell if your child is suicidal? Obviously, talk about taking one’s life, life not being worth living, being a burden or feeling guilty should be taken seriously. Even a throw-away remark such as “I’m going to shoot myself if I fail this test” should not be dismissed.
An obvious change in personal hygiene habits can be a sign. Giving away one’s possessions, irrational behavior (and, yes, I know we’re talking teenagers here), hopelessness, anxiety, ongoing depression, dropping out of activities they used to participate in and enjoy, withdrawing from friends and problems sleeping could all easily be warning signs of suicide and should be checked out by a professional.
I know teens don’t always talk to their parents, but it’s important to ask and encourage the child to talk if one sees any of the signs mentioned above, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
Suicide is preventable — very much so. Mental illness is treatable with medication. Cognitive therapy has been shown to help with depression.
There are trained people at the other end of the suicide hotline willing to help anybody in crisis.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) and Kids’ Health (kidshealth.org) have a wealth of information on this subject.
Suicide is, and always will be, a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Doris Lew / Napa
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