Among many other national observances, September marks National Blueberry Popsicle Month, National Library Card Sign Up Month, Save Your Photos Month, and National Sewing Month. Perhaps more importantly, September is National Suicide Prevention Month. We want to take this time to highlight some risk factors to consider and some warning signs to keep in mind.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2017) has shown that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. Each year, nearly 3000 individuals ages 13 to 19 die by suicide in the United States (CDC, 2017). Researchers have found that approximately 1 in 6 high school students seriously consider attempting suicide, and about 1 in 13 high school students attempt suicide one or more times (CDC, 2018). This means that in a typical suburban high school with about 1800 students, there may be 250 students who seriously consider suicide and over 100 may attempt suicide. This is alarming and deeply troubling.
Here’s the good news: suicide is preventable. When individuals, parents, schools, and communities partner to address suicide, we can save lives. It starts with knowing warning signs and some factors that may increase suicide risk.
Some of the most important factors that increase risk of suicide include:
Mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression
Access to means to kill oneself, such as guns, pills, etc.
Previous attempts to take one’s own life
Family history of suicide or mental health disorders
Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma
Exposure to the suicide of another person (i.e., knowing a friend)
Stressful life circumstances
As well, there are many warning signs that a person may be at risk for suicide, such as:
Talking about or making plans for suicide
Expressing hopelessness about the future
Displaying severe/overwhelming emotional pain or distress
Change in physical appearance and/or personality
Showing marked changes in behavior, including:
Withdrawal from or change in social connections or situations
Changes in sleep (increase or decrease)
Anger or hostility that is out of character or out of context
Increased agitation or irritability
It can be scary to see any of these warning signs in your teens. If you notice something is “off,” it is important to start a dialogue with them. It can seem difficult to talk about mental health or even suicide, but research shows that once a conversation has started, people struggling with suicidal thoughts (also called suicidal ideation) experience a sense of relief and are more likely to seek help. Asking your teens about suicide will not plant the idea in their heads.
Here are some helpful Do’s and Don’ts to get you started:
DO be an active listener.
DO pay attention.
DO ask questions, especially open-ended questions.
DO follow-up on questions.
DO be patient.
DO express observations (i.e., “I’ve noticed you’ve been in your room with the door shut. What’s up?”).
DO paraphrase to make sure you understand.
DO validate your teen’s feelings.
DON’T dismiss what they’re saying.
DON’T state your own opinions.
DON’T debate whether suicide is right or wrong.
DON’T ignore them asking for help.
DON’T forget to follow-up after the talk ends.
If you are ever concerned that your child may be feeling down or having thoughts of suicide, we can help! We can get you or your child scheduled with one of our therapists to begin the road to healing. For immediate assistance, you can always call the Franklin County Psychiatric Crisis Line (614.722.1800) with any mental health or substance abuse crises. You or your teen can also call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HELLO” to 741741.
Written by: Theresa Black, LISW-S
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). Web-based injury statistics query and reporting system (WISQARS): Fatal injury data, national and regional, 1999–2017. Retrieved from https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Youth risk behavior surveillance – United States, 2017. Surveillance Summaries. MMWR, 67(8). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf