Over the past few weeks, our community has been rocked by 2 teen suicides. Both teens were students at prominent Bethesda High Schools. These tragedies are becoming all too common. We hear about it on the news and over social media. According to Mary Anderson, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, there have been 5 teen suicides in Montgomery County this year.
There is certainly speculation about the correlation between social media and the rise in child and teen suicides in this country. Cyberbullying, a relatively new phenomenon, has become a major source of stress for today’s teen. There is pressure to present a certain image to the outside world, while what is going on inside often remains hidden. In the Washington DC area, in particular, there is an inordinate amount of value placed on achievement. According to a 2017 article in Forbes magazine, Washington DC is the 2nd most educated city in the United States. The comparison trap is a dangerous one. For emotionally fragile teens, the pressure to succeed is magnified. While we may not be able to change the culture, we can certainly change our attitude towards it.
Facts about Teen Suicide:
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15-24 years.
- Teens are more likely to tell a peer, rather than an adult if they are having thoughts of suicide.
- Only half of all Americans experiencing an episode of major depression receive treatment (NAMI).
- There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes (CDC).
- “Among teenagers, suicide attempts may be associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, the pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to be a solution to their problems” (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).
What parents can do:
- Talk to your kids. Parents need to talk about this. Of course, it is uncomfortable to talk about suicide. Many parents worry that bringing up the topic of suicide will ignite those ideations in their child. However, just like sex and drugs, teen suicide is a reality in the world today. Let your child know that they can come to you with anything. Ask open-ended questions. Let them know how you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Having an open conversation about suicide will help your child feel more comfortable coming to you for help.
- Watch for warning signs. It is so important for parents to know what to watch for when it comes to suicide risk factors. Withdrawal from peers, hopelessness, loss of interest, a decline in hygiene, use of drugs and alcohol as a means to escape, hypersomnia or lack of sleep, and loss of appetite are just some of the warning signs. In addition, you may notice personality changes and increased feelings of apathy (for example– a “who cares” or “nothing matters” attitude).
- Ask for help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, go to a mental health professional for guidance or join a parent support group. You don’t have to do it alone. When your child has a physical ailment, you take them to the doctor. You aren’t expected to fix a medical problem on your own. The same goes for psychiatric issues. If you are worried about your child’s mental health, professional help is a must. While it may look like something that is in your child’s control, it is not. There is a common misconception that people with depression and thoughts of suicide can simply snap out of it.
What teens can do:
- Talk about your own experience and break the silence. We live in a world where so much of our private lives have been made public. However, there are still certain things that we tend to keep to ourselves. Most of us have been programmed to feel shame when it comes to mental health issues. What if we felt open to share how we actually felt? What if you shared that you go to therapy, experience anxiety or are having issues with depression? You don’t have to feed into the stigma. Mental health issues are a reality.
- Don’t add to the problem, be a part of the solution. If you see something, say something– whether it is bullying over social media or noticing warning signs of depression in a friend. If you know someone who is suffering, offer support and tell a trusted adult, like a parent or guidance counselor. Staying silent only feeds into the problem.
- Join a group or start a group.
Groups can be a great place to open up and share what is really going on in a safe supportive environment. Whether it is a peer-led self-help group or a group run by a therapist or counselor, hearing other people’s stories can help you to see that you are not in this alone. A group setting can provide a place for you to “relate in” and learn how others were able to manage similar issues.
Remember if you or a friend are having thoughts of suicide, tell someone you trust. You are not alone, even though it feels like it. Asking for help takes courage but there is support available if you need it.
- Montgomery county crisis center
- Your Life Matters
- Sources of Strength
- Text line
- National Suicide Hotline