By Guest Bloggers Abby Flynn and Liz Williams, WSFCS School Psychologists
Youth suicide is serious problem. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among school age youth and the most preventable. In 2013, 17% of our nation’s high school students seriously considered suicide and 8% made an attempt. Recent information released stated that North Carolina’s teen suicide rate increased by one third from 2013 to 2014, and has doubled since 2010.
Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Knowing these warning signs and what actions to take can empower you to save your child or friend’s life. Most importantly, never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them a secret.
Suicide Risk Factors. Although far from perfect predictors, certain characteristics are associated with increased suicide risk.
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Isolation and aloneness
- Non-suicidal self-injury (e.g., cutting)
- Mental illness including depression, conduct disorders, and substance abuse
- Family stress/dysfunction
- Family history of suicide
- Environmental risks, including presence of a firearm in the home
- Situational crises (e.g., death of a loved one, bullying and harassment, serious disciplinary action, physical or sexual abuse, breakup of a relationship/friendship, family violence, suicide of a peer)
Suicide Warning Signs. Most suicidal youth demonstrate observable behavior that signals suicidal thoughts.
- Direct threats (“I’m going to kill myself”) or indirect threats (“the world would be better off without me;” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up again”)
- Suicide notes and planning (including online postings)
- Prior suicidal thoughts or behavior
- Making final arrangements (e.g., writing a will, giving away prized possessions)
- Preoccupation with death
- Changes in behavior, appearance, and/or feelings (Including feelings of elation or unexplained happiness after a period of depression. This could be from feeling “at peace” with the thought or signal having made a plan)
What to do.
Youth who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly. However, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When someone demonstrates these warning signs, the following actions must be taken.
- Never ignore or keep information a secret
- Remain calm
- Ask the person directly if he or she is thinking about suicide (e.g., “Are you thinking about suicide?)
- Focus on your concern for their wellbeing and avoid being accusatory
- Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever
- Do not judge
- Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the youth alone.
- Remove means for self-harm.
- Get help. No one should ever agree to keep a youth’s suicidal thoughts a secret and instead should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a parent, teacher, or school psychologist. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible. School staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional or administrator.
Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Myths and Facts:
Myth: Asking a person about suicide will cause him or her to consider suicide
Fact: If a student is thinking about suicide, being able to talk about the thoughts may provide a sense of being understood. As stated above 50% communicate their intent to family members so make sure to have open ears and the appropriate numbers/ resources to seek help.
You can down load this app: SAMHSA- Suicide Safe, which will provide you information/case studies as well as Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, and the National Crisis Line
1-800-273-TALK (8255), just a click away
Myth: Suicide happens without warning
Fact: Most suicidal people give clues and signs regarding their suicidal intentions:
These clues/signals can include: changing in sleeping and eating habits, extreme fatigue, frequent physical complaints, changes in school related activities, academic and extracurricular, withdrawal from friends or social activities, giving away prized possessions,
Verbal clues including: “I’m worthless”, “Its no use, I wont be around much longer”, “Nothing Matters”, saying goodbye to family and friends, the child my say “I’m going to kill myself” but that is not the only verbal indicator, as shown with the examples.
Parents, if you have a feeling, act on it. You know your child best, so make a call. No reference to suicide should be taken lightly and every reference should be followed up with a professional. Please seek further assistance from your child’s school psychologist, counselor, social worker, Pediatrician or outside agency.
A thought to instill in our children:
“Suicide doesn’t end the chance of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better”
Other helpful resources:
Save a friend: Tips for Teens to prevent suicide: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/savefriend_general.aspx
Preventing Youth Suicide: Information for caregivers and educators: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/suicideprevention.aspx
Also you can follow Winston Salem Forsyth County School Psychologists on our blog: http://schoolpsychws.blogspot.com/ and on twitter @schoolpsychws