The numbers are staggering. In the United States today, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young people.
While many teens are prone to periods of depression and anxiety, prolonged exposure to these emotions can result in cognitive changes that may lead to the decision of the teen to commit suicide.
Even though suicidal ideation is serious, professional intervention to address underlying problems can provide the needed support to prevent suicide from occurring.
Given the magnitude of the problem, it is important to consider the precipitating events that can lead an adolescent or young adult to consider suicide. Clearly, biological changes resulting as a consequence of puberty can contribute to the confusion and emotional upheaval experienced by many teens during this period of their lives.
Placed in the context of dynamic changes in their social environment – including more freedom, romantic relationships and peer pressure – teens can experience significant distress that may otherwise be labeled by a parent or caregiver as “growing pains.” While it is indeed true that many teens experience growing pains, it is important for adults to remember that the social environment for adolescents and young adults has changed dramatically.
An examination of the modern social environment in which many teens are reared demonstrates that today’s youth have access to information and resources that were once only available to adults. This shift, coupled with the ability of teens to access almost anything via the Internet, has served as the foundation of increased suicide rates in recent years.
Changes in the mass media have also contributed to increased rates of suicide among youth. Efforts to capture the attention of the youthful demographic have resulted in movies, television shows and songs that romanticize the concept of death.
Teens that have other risk factors for depression and suicidal ideation may be more susceptible to the messages that are being sent through various media. When juxtaposed against peer pressure, many teens may feel pressure to commit suicide without recognizing the true scope of their actions.
Although teenagers are often viewed as young adults, the reality is that most teens do not possess the cognitive skills and maturity to understand the concept of death and its implications. As a result, teens may glorify suicide as a viable alternative to the difficulties of life when problems arise.
Coupled with the impulsivity of youth, the end result can be the decision of the teen to commit suicide without really understanding what this choice means. When synthesized together, the difficulties associated with adolescent development become more apparent.
Even though the challenges facing adolescents are clearly overwhelming, parents concerned about their teens can provide help when problems arise. Parents that witness significant changes in their child’s mood or behavior should attempt to connect with their child to understand the problems and issues their children are facing. Parents must also be aware of the more subtle signs of mood disorders, including insomnia, changes in appetite and somatic complaints such as head and stomachaches.
If parents are unable to connect with their teens or if connection does not result in an improvement in the child’s mood or symptoms, parents may need to consider professional intervention and support.
Interestingly, 90 percent of teens that engage in suicidal ideation have a treatable psychiatric disorder. In most instances, teens become overwhelmed with depression or anxiety, which are the most common causes of suicidal behavior. While parents may believe that they can help their child, when serious mental health issues arise, parents will be best served to seek help from a professional for their child.
Adolescence is a trying time for both teens and parents. For teens contemplating suicide, there is help.
Professional treatment can provide the needed supports for teens to cope with challenges and overcome many of the obstacles associated with adolescence. A safe, comfortable place to share feelings and thoughts will help alleviate the negative pressures teens are confronted with from their peers, society and family.
Although this journey will not be easy, it is manageable. Suicide is not an inevitable fate for the depressed, distressed or anxious teen.