Being a parent today comes with unprecedented challenges. Teens are exposed to more harmful agents and environments than ever before, and this requires parents be more vigilant and informed than ever before to protect the health and well-being of their offspring. The magnitude of risks, however, often hyper-focuses parents on the tangible and in-your-face risks like the results of bad grades being flunking a grade or fewer college options and risky driving behaviors leading to car accidents. While such obvious harms are important considerations, there is one harm that often not so obvious in presentation, often overlooked or ignored until it’s too late, and much easier for teens to hide in leading up to it.
Of all the concerns parents have, few strike as much fear as the risk of suicide. As such, it’s a concern that many parents make a hasty mental retreat from entertaining because the mere thought of their child taking their own precious life is simply unbearable and unimaginable. Add to this that teens are masters at keeping parents out of the loop and frequently inject life with harmless, albeit at a deafening decibel, teen angst. The result is a recipe that has led to staggering teen suicide statistics. To change the recipe, the ingredients must change. Avoidance must be replaced with access to and understanding of vital teen suicide information.
Teen Suicide Statistics
The Jason Foundation (1) has done an excellent job compiling data from numerous CDC studies to raise awareness around teen suicide:
•For ages 10-24, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
•Suicide kills more teens each year than the combined totality of deaths from cancers, birth defects, strokes, heart and lung disease, AIDS, pneumonia, and flu.
•On average, U.S. teens in the 9th-12th grades make over 3,000 suicide attempts each day.
•Clear warning signs exist in four of every five suicide attempts.
According to the CDC’s 2017 annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance report (2), which records risky behaviors reported by teens over a 12 month period, the following suicide statistics applied to high school students:
•Over 41% of females and over 21% of males felt sad or hopeless everyday for at least two weeks and had disengaged in some of their usual activities as a result.
•Over 22% of females and almost 12% of males had seriously contemplated suicide.
•Over 17% of females and almost 10% of males had made a suicide plan.
•Over 9% of females and over 5% of males had attempted suicide.
•Over 2% suffered an injury during a suicide attempt that required medical treatment.
Know The Teen Suicide Risks, Vulnerabilities, & Warming Signs
Parents should know that teen suicide prevention isn’t a lost or hopeless cause. Countless research has shown that teen suicide isn’t a spur of the moment decision for the vast majority of teens. It’s also revealed that most suicides are an effort to end pain and suffering, not life. Most teen suicides are preceded by clear warnings signs. Those three facts alone provide a prevention means. One of the most important steps parents can take is in arming themselves with knowledge. Know how to spot the risk and warnings signs. The Mayo Clinic (3) has outlined vulnerabilities, risks, and warming signs for teen suicide:
Mental Health Vulnerability
Teen suicide is often accompanied by mental health conditions such as anxiety and/or depression that make it difficult for the teen to cope with and see a way through normal difficulties and problems. Depression is viewed by many experts as the number one risk factor for teen suicide. Be extra cautious if your teen shows signs of depression or anxiety or has a family history of mental health illness.
Circumstance Risk Factors
Certain situations increase the risk of teen suicide, including:
•History of sexual, physical, or mental trauma
•Drug and alcohol addiction
•Pregnancy, promiscuity, STDs, and other risky sexual behaviors
•Sexual orientation uncertainty
•Exposure to suicide
Behavioral Warning Signs
Certain behaviors can be red flags, especially when multiple behaviors are exhibited together:
•Writing, speech, or otherwise directly or indirectly indicating death is on the mind
•Withdrawals from normal activities, social interactions, and family time
•Increase in risky behaviors – drugs, alcohol, sex, and skipping school
•Hopelessness or lacking concern and care
•Changes in sleep and eating patterns
•Increased agitation and temper
•Preparing for an end behaviors – giving away belongings and saying goodbyes
•Physical changes in appearance and grooming
Getting Help For A Teen With Warning Signs
From busy work schedules to attending so many individual parenting concerns at once, it’s easy to overlook, dismiss, or confuse teen suicide warnings as typical teenage angst. Failing to act can have dire consequences. The upside is that there’s help available to you. Medical professionals can help you properly distinguish suicide and depression warning signs and provide you and your child with the tools and means to regroup, recoup, and overcome.
Teen and adult depression and suicide can present very differently and require very different treatment approaches. Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center specializes in teen-only inpatient treatment for mental health, behavioral health and addiction issues. Contact Hillcrest today to learn more about how to get your teen the help they need to thrive moving forward.