By Duane Hewitt
If one was to comb through the Internet looking for statistics regarding teenage suicide, the evidence of suicidal trends in young people is beyond disturbing. It’s daunting. And it isn’t a callous approach to the topic. On the contrary, it’s one of several starting points in an effort to grasp what is happening in the minds and lives of our youth, and what can be done about it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the frequency of suicide for youth aged 10 to 24 increased by almost 60% between 2007 and 2018. This increase occurred in most states of the U.S., with 42 of those states having substantial increases.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) states in a report dated June 2018 that “suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults age 15-to-24.”
And yet there are so many more stats, like those from the World Health Organization (WHO), which stated in a report from September 28, 2020, that “an estimated 62,000 adolescents died in 2016 as a result of self-harm. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in older adolescents (15 to 19 years). Nearly 90% of the world’s adolescents live in low or middle-income countries and more than 90% of the adolescent suicides are among adolescents living in those countries.”
Understanding the cause for suicide in the young wealthier countries is another matter. The AACAP states a number of reasons for suicide in the young… impulsiveness, mental health disorders (such as depression), or as seeing self-destruction as a solution to existing problems. Further risk factors can include:
Severe loss or rejection Bullying and harassment Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness Exposure to violence Harmful use of drugs and alcohol A family history of suicide and suicidal attempts
Then there’s something not uncommon in the minds of developing youths: not having a full understanding of their actions, such as the permanence of suicide or the effect it might have on others. Conversely, suicide can sometimes be associated with an attempt to “lash out” and hurt someone, typically a loved one.
Watching for and being sensitive to a change in trends with a young person can be important as a first step to prevent the tragedy. If there is a change of behavior, such as prevailing sadness, withdrawal, decline in interest with hobbies, friends and school, or a change in eating and sleeping habits, these can all be warning signs. In such cases, it warrants a kind and caring approach with questions such as asking if they are feeling sad or depressed, if they are thinking of death or if they have ever considered taking their life, or what other problems might be assailing them.
But it must also be acknowledged that there are at times situations and problems that may seem outside our ability to help, such as troubled backgrounds and households, and other socio-economic factors. If anything, as adults, mentors, friends and neighbors to our youth, we need to be watchful, attentive, and caring. Sometimes it’s that kind word and gesture – even from a stranger – that can save a life. And with our youth being the hearts and minds of the future, we must continue to find ways to help them and not give up.
Copyright Duane Hewitt 2021.