Suicide Awareness: Know the Warning Signs
The word “suicide,” carries a lot of negative connotations. This often leads people to steer clear of talking about it, as if it’s this giant taboo. If there is anything that can be guaranteed about suicide, it is that every one of us has been impacted by it in some way - even young children and adolescents, as suicide does not discriminate. Regardless of our own personal experiences, the reason for this article is to educate others on suicide awareness and prevention, a conversation that is extremely important to have with others, especially our youth.
According to the CDC, suicide is now the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. Unfortunately, these numbers continue to rise. People often think there is nothing a person can do to help prevent suicide, but the good news is that we can help.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, so now is a great time to learn the warning signs as well as the importance of educating others on identifying them. Each day in the US, an average of 3,041 suicide attempts are made by young people in grades 9-12. Four of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs. Listed below are some possible warning signs to look out for:
Suicide threats: direct or indirect statements
“I’d be better off dead”
“I hate my life”
“You’ll be better off without me”
Threats made in texts or on social media
Previous suicide attempts
1 out of 3 suicide deaths is not the teens first attempt
Any self-harm should be taken seriously
Preoccupation with death or suicide
Essays, poems, drawings, or school work
Giving away prized possessions
Saying goodbye to family/friends
Making funeral arrangements
Depression (the leading cause of suicide)
Often feelings of sadness
Abrupt changes in personality
Expressions of hopelessness
A decline in grades/school performance
Withdrawal from family/friends/relationships
Lack of hygiene
Change in eating/sleeping habits
Experiencing a recent loss – a loved one, job, relationship, etc.
Use/increased use of alcohol/or drugs or taking excessive risks/impulsiveness
Recent separation/divorce of parents
Feelings of loneliness or abandonment
Feelings of shame, guilt, humiliation, rejection
Emotional stress resulting in physical symptoms
A teen who may be contemplating suicide will not necessarily exhibit every one of these warning signs. Sometimes we can confuse these behaviors in teens as being “hormonal,” but it is extremely important not to dismiss a potential warning sign.
If you notice any changes in a teen’s behavior, you should take action to help them.
If you have concern for a teen’s mental and emotional well-being, there are a few things you can do to assist in getting them help. A good first step is to communicate your concerns with the teen and acknowledge the changes you have noticed in them. Allow them to express their thoughts and emotions. It is very important to lend a good listening ear and be empathetic of how they are feeling. Secondly, it is okay ask a teen if they have thought about killing themselves. If a teen admits to feeling suicidal at the time of asking or you feel they may be a threat to themselves, call 911 or take them to an emergency room immediately for further evaluation. You can also contact the National Suicide Hotline to speak with a professional for guidance. If you do not feel the teen is a threat to themselves at the moment, you can contact and schedule an appointment with their primary care physician or a psychologist/counselor for further evaluation and treatment.
Emotions and mental health are very sensitive topics to talk about with teens, but they are important topics to discuss and shouldn’t be avoided. Even if a teen may not be experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to share the following resources listed below with them so they know there is help available if needed. Again, we may never stop suicide completely for our youth, but by understanding the warning signs and knowing how to help, we can help make a difference in their lives and fight back against suicide.
Crisis Text Line
Text “CTL” or “LISTEN” to 741-741
Crisis Text Line provides free emotional support and information to young people in any type of crisis, including feeling suicidal. Teens can text with a trained specialist twenty-four hours a day.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Lifeline is a twenty-four-hour toll-free phone line for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. An online chat option is available at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
My3: app on smartphones
Create a safety plan including:
My Warning Signs
My Coping Strategies
Keeping Myself Safe
My Reason to Live
Has National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well as option to call 911
Can add Top 3 contacts
Can add online resources
The Jason Foundation
Provides resources, information, and free online training regarding teen suicide prevention
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide
Information for teens and parents on teen suicide prevention
West Virginia DHHR-Suicide Prevention
Provides additional information and resources on suicide prevention