A Look at Teen Suicide
What do we need to know to keep them safe?
In recent years, there has been in increase in the number of young people who complete or attempt suicide. This alarming rise in adolescent suicides have prompted many people from parents, to teachers to the government to become proactive in the race to save our youth. Social media has had a huge impact on teens who make the decision to attempt suicide. This paper will discuss the statistics of teen suicide, and go in-depth over some programs implemented to raise suicide awareness, prevention, and intervention. It will also cover developmental theory and how it relates to the suicidal teen.
Adolescent Identity Formation (History)
Teen suicide has long been a heart breaking reality of adolescent life. Feelings of sadness and despair in response to life changing events such as death, loss, rejection, or trauma are a normal part of the experience. The crisis arises when the normal or expected reaction or feelings do not seem to dissipate or get any better. When the feelings of hopelessness and despair linger, they can trigger the person experiencing them to feel as though there is not end in sight for the feelings, and therefore, suicide becomes the only option for them to end the painful feelings they are experiencing. Recently, there has been a steady increase in suicide rates, “Researchers analyzed the most recent youth suicide trends and found that while rates had declined about 5 percent in 2005 after a large spike in 2004, they are still much higher than what was expected based on historical data, said Jeff Bridge from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio” (Cole)
In a recent study by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), “For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4600 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (45%), suffocation (40%), and poisoning (8%).” (Suicide Prevention) By most standards, those numbers are shockingly high. In a world with billions of people, a number of 4600 may seem rather small, but in the concept of realizing every year four thousand and six hundred of our youth die to suicide, it becomes an all too sobering fact. Those are just the numbers of adolescents who complete suicide. The trend of suicide attempts or consideration, add thousands more each year to our numbers our youth at risk for suicide. The studies by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) also concluded: “A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the United States (U.S.) found that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey.” (Suicide Prevention) Sixteen percent of our students in only three school grades admit to seriously considering suicide, and thirteen percent have gone so far as to create a plan. NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) shows statistics that while suicide may be the third leading cause of death in adolescents, the number goes even higher for the older end of that adolescent age range, “In 1996, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among college students, the third-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24 years, and the fourth- leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 14 years.” (Teen Suicide) The numbers speak for themselves, and they are saying that if our youth are truly the future, there has to be better intervention practices put in place to educate and prevent these students on the finality and severity of their decision to consider suicide.
Suicide, much like cancer and heart disease, is not gender biased. However, the CDC’s report goes on to show that “Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81% of the deaths were males and 19% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys.” (Suicide Prevention) The study shows that girls may be more willing to open up and admit that they have made suicide attempts, but the ration of eighty one percent over nineteen percent of males who completed suicide to females, leads one to wonder, what is it that makes young males choose suicide as their option? The fact that females are more open to talking about their feelings and emotions versus males insistence on keeping their feelings “bottled up” in fear of retribution or shaming could have a great deal to do with this.
While suicide is not partial to one certain gender, race, or profession, the study by the CDC indicates a marked relation to culture influences and suicide. “Cultural variations in suicide rates also exist, with Native American/Alaskan Native youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9–12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.” (Suicide Prevention) A journal publication listed on the NIH (National Institutes of Health) website also states, “Suicidal behavior, like all other behavior is influenced by culture. Cultural influences are revealed in the choice of methods, the characteristics of the typical suicidal person and precipitating events, and the conflicts and emotions attributed as causes of the suicidal behavior in each community.” (Stropshire) Some cultures are more rigid and demanding, which place a greater demand on the adolescent to perform to meet the high standards imposed, whereas,
With numbers on suicide statistics steadily increasing, more focus has been put into implementing more prevention and intervention programs. As stated by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), “Now the eighth-leading cause of death overall in the U.S. and the third-leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years, suicide has become the subject of much recent focus.” (Teen Suicide) Putting in practice plans, programs, education, and support systems will be the key to tackling the war on teen suicide. “U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, for instance, recently announced his Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, 1999, an initiative intended to increase public awareness, promote intervention strategies, and enhance research.” (Teen Suicide)
One of those initiatives is called Gatekeeper training. “According to the Surgeon General’s National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (2001), a gatekeeper is someone in a position to recognize a crisis and the warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide. Gatekeepers include parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, ministers, doctors, nurses, office supervisors, squad leaders, foremen, police officers, advisors, caseworkers, firefighters, and many others who are strategically positioned to recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide.” (What is QPR) Gatekeeper training is a program that is taught in schools, to law enforcement or EMS (Emergency Medical Services) and fire agencies, and to mentors, parents, coaches, or anyone who has an interest in being involved with suicide prevention and intervention. It is based on the concept of QPR – Question, Persuade, and Refer. “QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, an emergency mental health intervention for suicidal persons created by Paul Quinnett, and first described in 1995 in a number of presentations and publications by the QPR Institute.” (What is QPR) It is a valuable tool in learning to recognize the warning signs of those at risk for suicide. The training teaches the “red flags”, or warning signs of a suicide threat. Once the trained gatekeeper recognized these warning signs, they enact the QPR system. In the first step, to question, the gatekeeper is taught to directly ask the question to spark a truthful answer. Are you planning to harm yourself? Are you thinking about suicide? “U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, for instance, recently announced his Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, 1999, an initiative intended to increase public awareness, promote intervention strategies, and enhance research.” (Teen Suicide)Secondly, persuading the person to get help. You need to talk to someone. I can help you find someone to talk to. Lastly, referring the person to someone whom they can feel safe in talking about their crisis is imperative. A teacher, their doctor, school counselor, or even a parent is generally a first step in getting them the intervention they need. This type of training would be invaluable if taught in all high schools across the nation. But in light of the percentage of younger than high school aged deaths related to suicide, it would benefit significantly to begin the program in middle schools, as most adolescents who feel they are in a crisis due to their feelings regarding suicide will not often be willing to openly talk to others about their feelings, but may feel more comfortable in discussing it with their peers.
The adolescent stage of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory is the Identity versus Identity Confusion stage. “During the adolescent years individuals face finding out who they are, what they are all about, and where they are going in life. This is Erikson’s firth developmental stage, identity versus identity confusion. If adolescents explore roles in a healthy manner and arrive at a positive path to follow in life, then they achieve a positive identity; if not, then identity confusion reigns.” (Santrock) The adolescent years are among some of the most critical in the lifespan development. Children in this age group can develop confusion about gender roles, sexuality, and obligations to family and society. Many children transitioning from childhood to adulthood have not yet mastered the ability to process and deal with stress, and they may feel overwhelmed. They are under stress of peer pressure as well as family life and wanting to get out and explore the world. They can become so wrought by the stress that grief becomes despair and they feel there is no alternative but to put an end to their own lives, as a means of escape.
Ethical Issues and Social Responsibility
The most important concept of the Human Service professional would, first and foremost, be do no harm. When talking with an adolescent who is contemplating suicide it would be imperative to develop a rapport and establish trust. The Human Service code of ethics that would come into play would be “STATEMENT 3 Human service professionals protect the client’s right to privacy and confidentiality except when such confidentiality would cause harm to the client or others, when agency guidelines state otherwise, or under other stated conditions (e.g., local, state, or federal laws). Professionals inform clients of the limits of confidentiality prior to the onset of the helping relationship.” (Woodson) Because, trust would be a high priority for the helping professional in this situation, it is important to remember that, otherwise stated as under the code of ethics, maintaining a high regard for the adolescent’s right to privacy is imperative, even though the parents may push both the helping professional and the child to reveal the topics discussed in sessions.
In light of the trends in teen suicide increasing, everyone involved in the life of an adolescent should be encouraged to educate themselves on the warning signs, and know the resources to refer the adolescent to when they feel there is a crisis. Parents, teachers, and peers need to have a solid understanding of what the adolescent is experiencing in trying to find themselves during this stage of their lives. And above all, teens need to be helped to understand that it is okay to talk about their feelings, and to ask for help when they feel they are unable to handle things on their own. They need to know there is a “safe person” with whom they can go to when they need to.
Cole, C. (2008, September 3). Teen Suicide Trends On The Rise. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://news.legalexaminer.com/teen-suicide-trends-on-the-rise.aspx?googleid=246696
Santrock, J. (2011). Essentials of life-span development (2nd ed.pg 16). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Shropshire, K., Pearson, J., Joe, S., Romer, D., & Canetto, S. (n.d.). Advancing Prevention Research on the Role of Culture in Suicide Prevention: An Introduction. Retrieved March 5,
Suicide Prevention. (2014, January 9). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html
Teenage Suicide. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www2.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Teenage_Suicide.htm
What is QPR? (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.qprinstitute.com/about.html
Woodson, M., & McClam, T. (2011). Professional Concerns. In An Introduction to Human Services (7th ed., p. 276). Brooks/Cole Cengage.
© 2018 Tina Haynes