6 Ways to Help Prevent Teen Suicide
It is after midnight and my phone rings. It is the Gilbert Police Department dispatch. As a volunteer on the Crisis Support Team for the Gilbert PD, I already know that a family’s lives have just changed forever.
I know before answering the phone that someone has just committed suicide and it is my job to respond.
There have been 42 identified suicides in the town of Gilbert between 2017 and 2019.
Suicide is a difficult topic, but it’s too important to ignore.
More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
Teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 12 to 18.
Despite a common belief that only teens and adults die by suicide, younger children can also be at risk. As children grow into teenagers, it becomes more challenging for parents to know what they are thinking and feeling. When do the normal ups and downs of adolescence become something to worry about?
Discerning our kid’s ups and downs can be challenging. Suicide is often the last discussion any parent wants to have with a child. Suicidal thoughts and attempts can be common among youth. Fortunately, there is a lot on information available about prevention as well as caring for youth after an attempt or death.
Parents, guardians, family members, friends, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, mentors, and many others can play a role in preventing teen suicide and supporting our young people.
Even Arizona public officials know how vital suicide prevention is. In May of 2019 the state of Arizona created the Mitch Warnock Act that requires all school employees who work with students in grades 6 through 12 to receive training on suicide prevention at least once every three years.
Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting, significant effects on youth, families, peers, and communities. The causes of suicide among youth are complex and involve many factors. Reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors and resilience is critical. The following tools can help you prevent youth suicide.
1. Know The Warning Signs
It is far too common, when a teen to commits suicide, for those who knew them to be totally surprised. This is partly because we have not educated ourselves on the warning signs. Below you’ll find a list of the most common warning signs. If you know of a young person is exhibiting one or more these signs, it might be time to look into getting help.
Warning signs for those at risk of suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless
- Having no reason to live
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Experiencing loss
- Experiencing life change
- Feeling like a burden on others
- Looking for methods of suicide online
- Making plans such as buying a gun
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawal or isolation
- Displaying rage and/or extreme mood swings
Adolescents with a mental health disorder (depression, anxiety) are also at a higher risk of suicide. The sad reality is that for almost all mental health disorders, people delay getting treatment. The average delay for getting help is about 10 years.
2. Express Concern
Pray for the courage to talk about suicide if there is a concern. Then act on that courage. Ask the person at risk clearly and directly, “Are you having thoughts of suicide”?
By honestly and openly expressing your concerns, you will send an important message that you care.
3. Listen Nonjudgmentally
It will be tempting to try to “fix” the problem. You might be tempted to say, “Get over it”, or begin to talk about your experience as a teenager, or take comments personally. Instead, say, “Tell me more about how you are feeling”. Then listen! This vital moment is not about you, it is about the teenager.
Believe it or not, people who are contemplating suicide want to talk about suicide to someone who cares and who is willing to listen.
You can be that person! Have the courage to listen to the teenager’s pain. It might get uncomfortable, but, if they are willing to talk, let them talk.
4. Remove Temptation
If there are any available means of suicide accessible, make sure that those means are taken away. If there are firearms in the house, remove them or lock them up safely. Keep medications out of reach. Do whatever you think it is necessary to remove the temptation.
5. Seek Professional Help
Mental Health Professionals can be essential partners in teen suicide prevention. Find a professional that you and your teen are comfortable with. As a parent, it is also important to actively participate in your child’s therapy. You can find a list of excellent counselors that I recommend here. You can also call your health insurance to get a list of covered mental health providers.
The Crisis Support Unit receives phone calls usually when it’s too late, but you can make a phone call before a situation turns into a crisis. There are many resources that you can reach out to for further information.
6. Find Rest in Jesus
The many pressures teenagers face today can be tremendous. The pressure as a parent guiding a teenager can also be stressful.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.
Christianity acknowledges the emptiness and brokenness of the world and offers hope, newness, and abundant life.
Jesus shared in man’s pain and suffering and provides redemption and restoration. Jesus reminds us that healing is possible and we are not alone.