The teenage years may often be a chaotic period in one’s life. Adolescents are confronted with a variety of issues – maturation of their bodies, changes in their relationships, decisions about their futures, etc. This transitional period can be very exciting but it can also be a time of emotional upheaval.
Some teens become overwhelmed by the uncertainties of adolescence and feel they have nowhere to turn. Their search for answers may lead them to begin “self-medicating” their pain by abusing drugs or alcohol. Or they might express their rage and frustration by engaging in acts of violence. They don’t want to talk about their emotions or problems because they may be embarrassed, they may think that will make them a burden, or that others will make fun of them. Too often, these troubled teens opt instead to take their own lives.
Depression, alcohol or drug abuse, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors are relatively the greatest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth. The following symptoms, experiences, or behaviors warrant the assistance of a trusted adult and may require consultation with a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or therapist.
Adolescents who consider suicide generally feel alone, hopeless, and rejected. They are especially vulnerable to these feelings if they have experienced a loss, humiliation, or trauma of some kind: poor performance on a test, breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, parents with alcohol or drug problems or who are abusive, or a family life affected by parental discord, separation, or divorce. However, a teenager still may be depressed or suicidal even without any of these adverse conditions.
Teenagers who are planning to commit suicide might “clean house” by giving away favorite possessions, cleaning their rooms, or throwing things away. After a period of depression, they may also become suddenly cheerful because they think that by deciding to end their lives they have “found the solution.” Young people who have attempted suicide in the past or who talk about suicide are at greater risk for future attempts. Listen for hints like “I’d be better off dead” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”.
Teens aren’t helped by lectures or by hearing all the reasons they have to live. What they need is to be reassured that they have someone to whom they can turn to discuss their feelings or problems, such as family, friends, school counselor, physician, or teacher. It must be a person who is very willing to listen and who is able to reassure the individual that depression and suicidal tendencies can be treated. Treatment is of utmost importance. Consult a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor or your family physician. Help can also be found through your local National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) or Mental Health Association.
Asking about suicidal ideas does not suggest suicide to a teen. Many times a person who is having thoughts of killing himself or herself will want to talk about it if given the appropriate opportunity and setting. Individuals who have completed suicide frequently had mentioned suicide prior to the attempt. Opportunities for intervention and prevention are almost always present. It is important to take positive steps in situations where suicide risk factors, precipitants or warning signs are present.
In short, simply taking the time to talk to troubled teenagers about their emotions or problems can help prevent the senseless tragedy of teen suicide. Let them know that help is available.