Suicide is a difficult topic to consider and or write about and I do so to raise the collective consciousness around this enigmatic issue. I want to be clear that I am not giving advice on this very weighty issue and any concerns that you may have about yourself or someone else should be addressed by a healthcare professional without delay.
Many people may have known someone who has committed suicide and over the years, I have lost several close friends to suicide and like so many other people, I have been left wondering if there might have been something that I or others might have done to prevent such a tragic end.
Now, after declines in suicide, it is increasing again and especially so for Americans, 15-24 years of age or Millennial’s. Last year, 38,000 Americans died as a result of suicide and each day about 1700 people attempt suicide unsuccessfully. The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that 1 in 5 teenagers had thought about suicide, 1 in 6 had made a plan for suicide and 1 in 12 had actually attempted suicide.
Girls think about committing suicide about twice as often as boys do, however, boys die at four times the rate from suicide as they tend use firearms more than girls. One of the real difficulties in detecting suicidal intentions among teens or young adults is a perception that it is a turbulent time for all young people.
Many adults refer to teens or young adults as having “raging hormones” or “everyone went through crazy times as a teenager or young adult.” I am not convinced that these stereotypes are accurate as I have known many young people who lacked life experience but were emotionally balanced and were coping very well with their respective lives. Like many stereotypes they can produce unintended outcomes and that influence may be in play here as well.
One thing that we do know is that there is a science based connection between depression and suicide. It has also been demonstrated that people of any age who abuse alcohol or drugs are at higher risk of committing suicide. Certain behaviors are also strongly linked to suicide such as sleep disturbance, verbalizing that they are thinking about suicide, withdrawal from friends, family or common activities, giving away prized possessions, uncommon anger or rages, anxiety and profound changes in eating habits.
In years past, some people believed that talking about suicide could actually cause a person to make an attempt, that line of thought has been entirely unfounded. In fact, talking may be one of the best things that can happen to anyone who might be thinking about hurting themselves.
If you or someone that you are concerned about or if you have a son or daughter in your home that you are concerned about; there are some actions that you can and should consider. Secure all firearms and ammunition if you have not yet done so, just the presence of a firearm increases the risk of suicide. Secure any and all medications if you have not yet done so. Try initiating a conversation about your concerns and if you feel that your concerns are well founded or you feel that there may be imminent danger you must get the person that you are concerned about to a health care professional immediately and that may mean your local emergency room.
From there, the helping process can begin which may include mediation and counseling or both or it may include a short stay in an inpatient facility until the danger passes aided by 24 hour a day support, medication and therapeutic counseling. Many people who struggle with depression feel ashamed or guilty that they have this malady. In reality it is no different that having diabetes or high blood pressure, it is a medical condition that must be treated. Some will be heard saying “snap out of it or you need to grow up,” or “stop being so selfish” when someone expresses their depression verbally or has a difficult time getting out of bed or eating meals, etc.
Certainly much progress has been made in general attitudes about mental illness but much work remains and there is so much at stake. While I do not agree with stereotypes in general, I do believe that young people can be especially vulnerable emotionally simply because they lack life experience.
For example, as a young person gains perspective through experience, issues like being socially isolated that were so devastating while in high school will soon seem like a minor issue once some life experience is achieved. Soon other perceived catastrophes will also be reduced to a size that is manageable. In this interim, adults can help young people to see this perspective sooner and that is why parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, religious leaders and other youth involved professionals can play such an important role in helping young people to navigate these inexperienced years.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK where you will be directed to local resources.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at Hurlburt@wildblue.net