Yesterday, when I heard a teenage boy at University of Florida appeared to have committed suicide, I was devastated. How sad that a young man could feel hopeless enough to take his life!
My nephews, who knew this boy well, are grief stricken. This boy was close with his younger brother, belonged to a fraternity, had lots of friends and played on the university’s hockey team. Through an outside observer’s eyes, he seemed to be living an ideal life.
When I was in high school — a school with about 2,500 students — I never knew of any of my peers committing suicide. And even in my college years, suicide among the teens was a very unusual event that I rarely heard of.
Yet, in the last year, two teenage boys with whom I have a connection have committed suicide and I regularly hear of others in cities across the U.S. This morning, I stumbled onto a website with a post by Mark Gregston , founder and executive director of Heartlight, a residential counseling program for struggling adolescents. He gave these statistics: Before the 1960’s, suicide by adolescents happened only rarely; but today, nearly one in ten teens contemplates suicide, and over 500,000 attempt it each year. While suicide rates for all other ages have dropped, suicides among teens have nearly tripled.
Gregston explains that between the sexes, teen boys are more than four times as likely to commit suicide as girls. But girls are known to think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys. The difference is the method; girls attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves, and thankfully most are found in time and rescued. Boys tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.
For the last 24 hours I am consumed with this horror. I’m scared for our teens and for parents who aren’t sure how to avert this sad scenario.
Ask any parent and they will tell you that the pressure on teens today is much greater than it was when they went to high school. The pressure to achieve academically, socially and athletically has reached crazy levels and our kids are paying the price. Combine that pressure with the angst from social media and we have created a society of highly anxious and often depressed teenagers who are flooding campus counseling centers looking for ways to cope.
How does suicide happen? Gregston says teens who feel pain and despair don’t see the bigger picture; they only see the “right now.” They get wrapped up in the emotions of the moment. When you mix immature short-sightedness with feelings of utter hopelessness, some kids think they cannot live with the pain another day. They react on suicidal thoughts without thinking it through.
As a mother of a son in college who doesn’t communicate well with me, I worry.
So, what can we as parents do?
Gregston says we can talk to our teens when we see any signs of trouble and encourage them to seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional.
Here are some more of his recommendations:
- If you ever hear your teen say, “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I’m going to commit suicide,” always take such statements seriously and immediately seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional. Don’t walk away. Don’t wait. Get them to a hospital or counselor immediately, even if they don’t want to go or say they were just fooling with you.
- If you see mild warning signs, ask your teen if he or she is depressed or thinking about suicide.
- Get them to commit to you that if they ever do have those thoughts, they’ll let you or someone else know.
- If your teen confides in you their loss of hope or control of their life, show that you take those concerns seriously.
- Recognize that a depressed teen generally doesn’t have the ability or strength to solve their own depression.
- Listen to your teen and try not to be judgemental or accusing. Being a teenager is hard today and your child is justified in their feelings, even if you may not agree or understand. When you realize this, you can help your child.
- Remain in contact; even if you no longer have any control over your teen’s life. It can make all the difference.
Parents whose children are suffering from anxiety often feel embarrassed or don’t want to talk about it with other people. The reality is more parents are dealing with this than you realize.
Also, I feel like it is increasingly important to talk to our teens about how to respond if they have a friend who suffers from anxiety or depression. Their reaction in a situation can be just as critical to how it plays out.
When a teen commits suicide, the entire community grieves. Yet, we aren’t making enough headway in preventing this tragedy. What are your thoughts on the increasing rate of teen suicide? Is it too late to dial down the pressure on teens? What do you think can be done?