Teen suicide has reached almost epidemic proportions, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noting a 70 percent rise between 2006 and 2016, the most recent year statistics were available. Suicide is an issue with no easy answers; the reasons it happens can almost feel impossible to fully understand. But there are action steps any of us can take to help make sure the young people feeling isolated and depressed don’t make that terrible choice. Here are five actionable steps you can take today to help stop teen suicide.
Understand the depths of the problem
It’s not an exaggeration to say that suicide is a more crucial problem now than it’s ever been before. Recent studies have found that suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people, more than cancer, heart disease, birth defects, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and lung disease combined. Only automotive and other accidents take more young lives on a yearly basis. In short, it’s something to be taken extremely seriously. Taking it seriously means taking action when necessary, and knowing when to do so means being able to identify the early signs that a young person may be thinking about harming themselves.
Learn the warning signs
Whether it’s your own children or those you interact with through family or friends, there are frequently subtle and unsubtle warning signs that indicate the potential for self-harm. Sudden changes in personality, like a shift from friendliness to withdrawal may be a sign a teen is in danger. Risky behavior and isolation from society often foretell dire things as well. Mood swings and dispositional changes happen in many otherwise healthy teenagers, but once-happy young people who begin to dwell on negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness are showing major red flags that may require action.
Volunteer at a local crisis center
Absent these kinds of warning signs in the teens in your life, there are still ways to personally help those afflicted with suicidal thoughts. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline consists of a national network of crisis centers, operating both the well-known suicide hotline and in-person counseling. You may not be a certified crisis counselor, but there is a multitude of ways the SPL can help empower you to get involved in fighting the good fight against teen suicide. Answering phone calls or texts is just one of the many support jobs you can do to help out. If you truly are interested in becoming a full-time counselor, there are many resources to learn about doing just that.
Reduce teens’ access to guns
While it’s not the only method through which teens end their lives, firearms account for 40 percent of such suicides, double the amount of gun-related homicides in the same age group. Without delving into a touchy political topic, it’s a proven fact that access to firearms increases the risk of being harmed by one. It’s also a fact that suicide attempts carried out by guns are more certain to be completed, putting a shattering certainty on the misguided choice to self-harm. It’s a simple choice that can save a life. If you’ve got guns, lock them up.
Talk openly with your children
For parents who have teens of their own, even ones who show no outward signs of depression or hopelessness, a candid conversation about suicide can help them better understand the futility of such an act. Even if it might not always seem like they’re listening, a serious talk can go a long way in letting them know that they’re not alone. Put their problems into perspective, and remind them that the weight of the world on one’s shoulders is lessened when we share it with those closest to us. The despondency of a suicidal mind can only be cured when they know they’re not alone. If the idea makes you uncomfortable, do it anyway. Their lives may depend on it.