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

Final arrangements

  • 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

  • Increased agitation/irritability

  • Withdrawal from family/friends/relationships

  • Lack of hygiene

  • Change in eating/sleeping habits

Other signs

  • 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.

Resources:


Crisis Text Line

  • www.crisistextline.org

  • 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

  • www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

  • 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

    • My Distractions

    • My Network

    • 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

  • Jasonfoundation.com

  • Provides resources, information, and free online training regarding teen suicide prevention

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

  • https://www.sptusa.org

  • Information for teens and parents on teen suicide prevention

West Virginia DHHR-Suicide Prevention

  • https://dhhr.wv.gov/bhhf/resources/Pages/Suicide.aspx

  • Provides additional information and resources on suicide prevention

Article written by Autumn Wagoner, THINK Educator

Rebecca White