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Teen Suicide
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Teen Suicide

Parents and adults who work with teens need to be able to recognize the danger signals associated with a teen being severely depressed or considering suicide. These signals include:

  • Noticeable change in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Decline in school performance.
  • Violent or rebellious behavior.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Radical personality change.
  • Complaints about stomachaches, headaches, fatigue or other physical ailments.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities.
  • Verbal comments such as "I won't be a problem much longer . . ." or "It's no use . . ."
  • Sudden, forced cheerfulness after a period of depression.

While they are useful indicators, these signals are not foolproof. Teens typically go through phases of defiant behavior as a part of their increasing independence and separation from parents. They also may exhibit moodiness, withdrawal or anger in reaction to such events as not making an athletic team or breaking up with a dating partner.

The key to distinguishing between normal adolescent turbulence and the danger signals is the time, degree and amount of deviation from usual personality and behavior.

Adults can help prevent suicide by fostering open, honest communication with teens. If a teen trusts you enough to come to you with a problem, take time to listen immediately. Delay many only fuel feelings of doom in the teen. The following strategies may be helpful when dealing with teens and suicide:

  • Never agree to keep the discussion of suicide with a teen a secret. Agree to give help and support in getting professional help.
  • Talk about suicide in an open manner. Teens need to be given a chance to discuss suicide by voicing their thoughts and opinions. Candid discussion is important particularly when a teen suicide has occurred in a community.
  • Let young people know about hotline telephone numbers and crisis intervention services that are accessible locally.
  • Risk getting involved. If you suspect suicidal thoughts or behavior, ask the teen directly if she or he is considering suicide. Don't avoid the subject or wait for the teen to come to you.
  • Be alert to the teen's feelings. The severity of the problem should be judged from the teen's perception, not by adult standards. If a teen perceives something as a problem, it is a problem for him or her.
  • Model healthy behavior and positive problem-solving approaches. Adults can be models for young people by dealing with their own stress in a constructive manner.
  • Use television shows, films, newspaper articles and other media as a trigger for a discussion of effective ways to deal with stress and depression.
  • Provide opportunities for group support. Teens sharing problems with other teens who help find solutions can be beneficial.

Adults need to take the possibility of teen suicide seriously even if their community has not experienced one. Teen depression and thoughts of suicide are more common than many adults assume and there are as many as 50 to 100 suicide attempts for every young person who actually takes his or her own life.

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