Teen suicide is a major issue in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease control report, Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24. Suicide is also the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.” To help understand teen suicide and what you can do to help I have interviewed a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Raelene Weaver.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I grew up in Santa Cruz, and love the ocean. I have an older brother and younger stepbrother, and enjoyed growing up as a tomboy, being able to play with the neighborhood kids, which were mostly boys. I am definitely a “people person”, but enjoy following business trends and breakthroughs in technology and biotechnology. I read the newspaper every day. I am an avid walker, and am incorporating bicycling into my exercise regimen as well. I am married to a wonderful man, Ray (yes I know Ray and Raelene!) and a neighborhood cat has adopted us. His name is Buttons, and we’ve decided this will be his retirement home.”
What are some reasons a teen would commit suicide?
“I think most of the reasons for teen suicide revolve around perceived or actual threats to their self-identity, as well as a profound sense of overwhelm and inability to find relief or get help. Because a teen’s world is largely based on how they see themselves at school, how well they fit in, how easy or difficult it is to make friends, if they are bullied, criticized, or shamed repeatedly, they may begin to seriously question their self worth and feel like there is no place for them. Broken or failed relationships can lead to depression, or a teen feeling unlovable or unworthy. I also believe if academic and/or parental pressures are unrealistically high for a teen, they may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and never good enough. If a teen feels he/she cannot talk about the overwhelm and stress to parents, teachers, or counselors it may lead to self-destructive behavior, drug or alcohol abuse, depression, or ultimately harm to others or self.”
What are some signs that a teen is suicidal?
1. “Talking or romanticizing about suicide: Saying things like “I’d be better off dead”, “You’d miss me if I was gone”, “I can’t see a way out of this” etc.”
2. “Looking to other depressed teens to support suicidal ideas or to create a suicide pact. Excessive journaling about death, dying, the “other side.””
3. “Having a lot of accidents or engaging in risky behavior (riding a bike out in busy traffic).”
4. “Complaining a lot of physical ailments; headaches, stomach aches, muscle aches, fatigue (more than usual).”
5. “Giving away personal items, acting as if they’re tying up any loose ends before leaving permanently.”
What type of help is available for a teen that is suicidal?
“I believe there is a national suicide prevention/crisis hotline that operates 24/7 for anyone feeling suicidal or in crisis. Most counties have programs dedicated to teen issues and suicide, where a teen can call in anonymously and talk to someone about what they’re feeling and what they’re going through.”
“Teachers, counselors, clergy are generally required to report a possible suicide to law enforcement who can arrange for evaluation and holding at a hospital if need be.”
“Some schools may have programs on suicide detection and prevention. They may also have groups for teens to discuss feelings of loss, grief, relationship problems, academic problems etc.”
What advice would you like to leave for parents who have a teen who displays suicidal tendencies?
“Be aware of your child’s behavior, if it includes listlessness, irritability, withdrawal, and anger, sadness that appears excessive and continues for more than two weeks. If a teen has sudden outbursts of crying or anger, it could signal frustration and overwhelm. If they shy away from activities or people they used to enjoy, try to find out
“Try to encourage healthy coping mechanisms for stress and overwhelm in general such as: taking a few deep breaths, self-soothing (telling oneself that “this won’t last forever”, “I’m a good person”, “I’ll ask for help if I can’t figure it out”), journaling, or exercise.”
“Encouraging a healthy, balanced life-style as much as possible. A healthy diet, sufficient sleep, and regular exercise.”
“Take your child to the doctor if symptoms persist. Keep in touch with your child’s teacher, coach etc. to see what they’re observing.”
“Talk to your teen’s friends or their parents if possible to see if they’ve noticed any major changes in behavior.”
“Arrange for your teen to see a counselor to discuss in private what is troubling your teen, to assess for suicidality and provide support for whatever the teen is struggling with.”
“One point of caution: If your teen (or anyone for that matter) has been going to counseling and/or is taking medication for depression, don’t stop monitoring them if their mood starts to lighten. While we want, of course, a person’s moods and over-all functioning to improve, for some people, feeling better gives them the energy to follow
through with a suicide.”
Thank you Ms. Weaver for the interview. If you would like more information about Raelene Weaver you can check out her website at