If you have teenagers of your own, you probably know many of their friends and have experienced, first hand, the drama and moodiness that frequently characterizes many of them. But before you dismiss the emotional upsets of all teenagers as just a part of the maturing process, ask yourself this question: Do you know the early warning signs of suicide among adolescents?
You should know that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24. Even more staggering is the fact that in the time it takes for you to watch a two-hour movie, another teen will take his/her life somewhere in America. Yet, with societies’ growing awareness of the increase in reported depression and anxiety among teens, together with an increase in programs targeting adolescent mental health and safety, adolescent suicide statistics continue to rise.
While you may not be able to prevent the deaths of countless adolescents whose names and faces you have never heard or seen, by knowing the early warning signs of potential suicide, you might just save a young person you know from attempting to end his/her own life.
Perhaps you know a teenager that seems depressed. What signs should you look for that might be early indicators of the potential for suicide? Although some attempted suicides occur abruptly due to unforeseen events that tend to catapult a teen into a highly reactive state, most adolescents have been considering suicide for a number of weeks prior to the attempt.
Perhaps the earliest and most comprehensive warning that you may have of the potential for an adolescent to attempt suicide is a history of increasing depression over a period of several weeks.
Symptoms of depression might include:
Withdrawal from friends and normal activities
Be aware, however, that many teens will remain in contact with one or two of their closest friends and may even confide their talk their thoughts of killing themselves.
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Some teens will begin sleeping a lot while others may experience sleeplessness. They may either show signs of a decreased appetite and even weight loss, or begin to overeat as a means of self-medicating feelings of sadness, guilt, or increased anxiety.
Loss of interest in appearance
A depressed adolescent may begin to dress sloppily, and pay little, if any, attention to grooming.
Some teenagers who are severely depressed will withdraw and appear sullen or even ambivalent while others may exhibit outbursts of anger.
Falling grades are often a symptom that a teen may be troubled. If depression is severe enough he may even exhibit a fugue-like behavior.
Earliest warnings do not always accurately predict whether an adolescent is considering suicide, but they are symptoms of severe depression that need attention. Even if only one of the symptoms persists, parents, guardians, and loved ones should be alerted to the potential that their teen may need outside help. More than one of these indicators increases the likelihood of depression and potential suicide.
Unfortunately, earlier symptoms of depression are often overlooked or interpreted as normal teenage angst. When this happens, a potentially suicidal adolescent will begin to exhibit more severe symptoms that place him at high risk for a suicide attempt. Warning signs that, when dismissed or overlooked, may result in an adolescent suicide include:
Frequent references to death and/or suicide
A teenager who is consider ending his life will often talk with a best friend about what death is like or even confide that he is thinking about suicide. Giving away personal possessions – This is usually items of importance to the adolescent like a school trophy, a favorite collection, or a special piece of jewelry. An abrupt change in mood for the better – Once an individual has made the decision to end attempt suicide, he/she often feels a sense of relief which can be exhibited by a false sense of cheerfulness or peacefulness.
Breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend for no good reason
Remember that this is only significant if it has been preceded by increasing symptoms of depression. Attempting to repair a poor relationship with a loved one – If a teenager‘s relationship with either parent or with a sibling has been poor, he will sometimes reach out to make peace before ending his life.
Confiding a plan to commit suicide to a friend
Tragically, friends of adolescents who have committed suicide, often reveal that there were indicators that were either not recognized or dismissed. All adolescents need to be made aware of the warning signs that a friend might be considering ending his/her life.
Suicide at any age is a tragic and senseless act that leaves loved ones and friends to cope with deep sadness, grief, and often, feelings of regret and guilt. But the suicide of a young person is especially painful for the ones who are left behind who are deprived of the love, companionship, and all the future dreams and hopes that will never be realized.
If you know an adolescent who seems depressed and could be potentially suicidal don’t mistake the mistake of doing nothing. If you feel incapable of discussing your concerns with him/her, find someone to confide in and make sure that the teenager gets the help needed to address depression and prevent another needless adolescent suicide.